It took all of 30 seconds for the nominations for ally of the year to be emailed to The Frederick Center’s chair.
Kris Fair was sitting at the airport waiting for his sister to arrive when he put out the call for ally of the year nominations. At a ceremony Thursday to recognize the honorees, he remembered that moment because a flood of nominations came in quickly.
They were all for Jenny Ryan, a teacher at West Frederick Middle School.
Ryan, according to the nominations, had made it possible for an LGBTQ after-school group to meet, Fair said at the ceremony. She made sure the students would be able to meet no matter what so that they would have a safe space.
Ryan and The Frederick Center have also worked with Frederick County Public Schools to make permission slips for after-school clubs more friendly to those in the LGBTQ community. Instead of dictating what club they attend, which could out a student to their parents, the permission slips now just give permission to stay after school to attend club meetings, Fair said at the ceremony.
After accepting the ally of the year award, Ryan said that it was a group effort to ensure a safe space for her LGBTQ students.
It was a unanimous decision to give Ryan the award, Fair said after the ceremony. The sheer number of nominations as well as the effect she had on her students made it an easy choice.
The Frederick Center also awarded an ally organization of the year award, which went to Grace United Church of Christ on East Second Street. The Rev. Dr. Rob Apgar-Taylor, the first openly gay pastor in Frederick, accepted the award on behalf of the church.
Apgar-Taylor arrived at Grace in 2012, about nine years after he came out. When he started at the church, he contacted The Frederick Center, which was in its infancy.
He offered the burgeoning group space at the Grace church because they had the room, he said. Now, it continues to host a plethora of groups, such as PFLAG and an HIV support group through the Frederick County Health Department.
Apgar-Taylor used to serve the United Methodist Church, the church of his family. The church recently chose to continue to ban gay or lesbian pastors and same-sex marriage. People use the church and Bible to excuse homophobia, Apgar-Taylor said.
“And none of that is really the truth,” he said.
Being able to go to an accepting church is important, something he knows from experience.
“I think it’s more important than anyone can understand,” he said.
Grace became an open and affirming church prior to his arrival as its pastor, he said. They chose him regardless of his sexual orientation. That was just a bonus.
The choice to be open came due to a couple of members of the church coming out. Other members, Apgar-Taylor said, had a moment where they realized they liked the members despite the news that they came out.
Different churches see Scripture in different ways, and the Bible includes many passages that no one follows.
Grace does marry people, he said. He had the opportunity to marry friends at the church before he came. It is important to be able to get married in a church, he said, because marriage is a spiritual bond as much as it is a legal one.
Creating spaces for those who identify as LGBTQ is the reason the church was honored as the ally organization of the year, Fair said.
“It is really quite stunning,” he said.