WESTMINSTER - Three years ago, Wade Fannin left a powerful gay community in Houston to continue his education at a small liberal arts school in the East.
"They really bill Western Maryland College as a liberal arts college," Fannin said. "But there is a lot of homophobia on campus. Some professors are committed to working against discrimination. Then there are some who contribute to discrimination by telling queer jokes."
More than once, the 26-year-old psychology and religious studies major has spoken up in the classroom to dispel misconceptions about homosexuality. He also has been invited to speak to students about homosexuality in courses on human sexuality.
"I feel obligated to do that to make our lives better here," Fannin said. "It's a positive way to reach people."
Fannin also is one of the forces behind WMC's slate of events this month to acknowledge sexual diversity and raise money for AIDS organizations. The events range from a worship service to a brunch for gay and lesbian WMC graduates.
"The world is made up of diversity," said Nina Gregg, a member of WMC's communications faculty. "WMC is part of that world. I hope students take advantage of this opportunity to learn about what is supposed to be one-tenth of the population."
That population includes those who have not openly admitted their homosexuality. Fannin was hopeful that the designation of Oct. 10 as National Coming Out Day would encourage those people to do so. The former Houston Baptist University student admitted his homosexuality seven years ago.
"I knew I never would be riding the fence," said Fannin, who is the son of a fundamentalist minister. "I wasn't going to not acknowledge who I am or what I am just because society disapproves. If I wanted to have any kind of quality life, I was obligated to be vocal."
His honesty estranged him from his father for five years. He found support elsewhere.
Although Fannin's transfer to WMC three years ago was a culture shock, he has found support here among a group of about 20 students who belong to the Lesbian and Gay Alliance of WMC, an organization that was founded about a decade ago but only recently became revitalized after going underground during the onset of the AIDS epidemic.
The group serves as a social and support outlet. Its members also have been active in community service projects, ranging from helping the homeless and AIDS victims to establishing a scholarship fund for gay and lesbian WMC students.
Fannin's life in Carroll County, though, has not been without its share of adversity.
He and his lover were once assaulted by a teen-ager in Westminster. On campus, he has been called "queer" and "faggot" and has had objects thrown at him on the occasions he has walked through a dormitory.
"It's been really hard," said Fannin, who lives off campus. "I would never live on campus. There are men who aren't out of the closet, but it's kind of known, and people make threats and write names on their doors."
Except for the incident downtown, Fannin said few people confront him to his face.
"I'm much too vocal," he said.
Fannin plans to graduate in the spring and hopes to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. In the immediate future, he plans to become ordained in the United Church of Christ, believing a clergyman's cloak will add clout to his activism.
Of his activism, he said, "It's a tiring process. Because I am considered the gay student at WMC, all other gays are judged against what I do. I have to take the steps to be the best I can be.
"In that same struggle, I find the empowerment to make a change or difference."