WESTMINSTER — A small community like Westminster can have little to offer when you're 22 years old and gay.
That changed for Dave, a county resident, when he learned of the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center at Western Maryland College more than a year ago.
"I found the group at the center to be very supportive, and I could go there and meet other gay people and have an intelligent conversation," said Dave, who learned about the center from a roommate. "Since then I have gotten involved with a number of the programs and I feel I am helping to reinforce positive feelings for the gay community in this county."
The center, which has been in operation for aboutfour years, offers gays and lesbians a place to meet and share theirconcerns.
"Before going to the center, I found that everything inthe gay culture seemed to focus around the bar scene," he said. "I figured there had to be more to gay life than being an object in a bar. I feel more whole as a person now that I don't have to associate with that bar lifestyle. That atmosphere was not realistic; it's a negative side of gay life."
Wade Fannin, director of the center, started the program to help shed a more favorable light on gay people.
The programs at the center have attracted interest, resulting in growing attendance at meetings and increased participation in programs, Fannin said.
"The resource center, which grew out of the college's gay and lesbian alliance, has grown by leaps and bounds over the lastfour years," he said. "When we started, we had three people. Now we have 30 core members, with approximately 60 people involved in the various programs."
One of the center's main projects is the gay visibility program, which is aimed at helping straight people to better understand and accept gay individuals.
"Members of our group will lecture in the classrooms here on campus or at religious meetings. Basically what we do is try to make people feel comfortable with us," Fannin said. "We talk about discrimination -- both socially and in the workplace -- and employment and hate crimes."
Each October the center schedules a weeks of events to commemorate the first National Coming Out Week, which took place in 1987.
"By doing these activitiesin our gay visibility program, we are finding that people are takingthe time to get to know us," Fannin said. "They are getting past themyths and the stereotypes. They are realizing that we are people too."
Fannin, who is a senior at Western Maryland College, has initiated weekly group meetings that enable gays and lesbians to meet and discuss such issues as alcohol and drug abuse in the gay culture, gay bashing and self esteem.
"Our support group meets on Thursday evenings at the center, which is located in the basement of Blanche Ward Hall," he said.
"The minority who attend are from the college. Mostly we have people from the county at large, with some coming from the rural areas outside of Carroll where there are no support services for gays and lesbians."
Also a "Helpline," which operates Monday through Friday from 7 to 10 p.m., is staffed by volunteers available to discuss issues pertaining to the gay community. The volunteers alsopass along information about the center.
"We take anywhere from 15 to 20 calls a week dealing with a variety of issues," Fannin said. "We offer comfort and support to gays and lesbians who do not feel they will get it from their families. People call in wanting information on coming out . . . and we also have calls from people who want to report hate crimes."
Another of the center's projects is the Food Pantry, a program through which food and food supplements are available for people who have AIDS or have been exposed to the AIDS virus.
"Our hours accommodate our clients, who can drop by in the off hours. If they have a problem getting out, we will get the food to them,"he said. "Foods are donated, and we have collection boxes all over the county. We take the usual canned foods, but we also keep the food supplements on hand for those who cannot eat solids."
The center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Food Pantry operates the same hours Tuesday and Thursday.
For more informationabout the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, call 857-8362.