This year, for the first time, Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction formally recognized June as Pride Month — an effort spearheaded by Evan Glass, the first openly gay member of the Montgomery County Council.
At events, Glass, 42, posed with drag queens and marched triumphantly through town centers holding his husband’s hand. Behind the scenes, however, the at-large Democrat was battling a deluge of hate-filled messages.
It began in May, after Glass announced via email the pride events he would be hosting in Montgomery, a county of 1.1 million people just outside Washington. The first response he received from a constituent questioned his efforts to organize “tranny queer pride gatherings.”
More than 300 critical emails followed. One called Glass a “pervert.” Another a “dirty pig.” Hundreds of people called his office or left negative comments on social media. The outpouring intensified when the county government lowered a POW-MIA flag that normally flies outside its offices in Rockville and raised a rainbow-colored pride flag in its place.
The scale of the backlash shocked Glass and other openly gay politicians in Montgomery, which is widely thought to be one of the most progressive suburbs in the region.
Some advocates, however, said they were disappointed but not surprised, especially given a recent uptick in anti-LGBTQ hostility at the regional and national levels. Most recently, two transgender people were killed in the Washington area, renewing anxieties around the dangers faced by members of that community.
Glass was one of 33 Democrats who sought Montgomery’s four at-large council seats last fall, an unusually large field spurred by a new public-financing option and new term limits that forced three incumbents out of office.
In the November election, the Long Island native led the crowded pack with 19.2 percent of the vote.
Glass, who lives with his husband, Jason Gedeik, in Silver Spring, says he has encountered homophobia before. As a reporter for CNN in the early 2000s, he covered the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment — an effort by the George W. Bush administration to define marriage strictly as the union of one man and one woman — and spent his days talking to some of the most conservative members of Congress.
But that experience did not prepare him, he said, for the vitriol that arose as he kicked off Pride Month, and that grew louder when the POW/MIA flag was lowered on June 10.
While Glass had pushed for the rainbow banner to be displayed, he was not in charge of the event and did not make the decision to replace the flag that honors prisoners of war and troops missing in action.
“I only learned about the swapping of flags as I walked out to the plaza,” Glass said. But “as the first gay member of the council, I was the face of pride. And whether someone agreed with or disagreed with the celebrations that occurred, I was the person they turned to.”
Barry Hudson, a spokesman for County Executive Marc Elrich (D), said the government intended to fly both the POW/MIA flag and the rainbow flag on the center flagpole, but it could accommodate only one flag. After an outcry, Elrich’s staff lowered the county flag, which flew on a separate pole, to make room for the rainbow flag, returning the POW/MIA flag to its original position.
The change did little to stem the flood of criticism toward Glass.
For the rest of that week, angry calls to his office were so vicious and incessant that the council member instructed his staff members — most of whom identify as LGBTQ — to let them all go to voice mail. Valeria Carranza, Glass’s chief of staff and an openly gay woman, deleted Instagram and Twitter from her phone and encouraged the rest of the staff to do the same. The Montgomery County Police Department started sending officers to pride events where Glass would be present.
About half the messages came from veterans and their supporters, with the rest from people opposed to Glass’s efforts to organize pride events and, often, to his sexual orientation, his office said.
“Getting this kind of hateful feedback was really, really disheartening,” said Carranza, 31. “Every day, it felt like a personal attack on our identities.”
Former state senator Richard S. Madaleno Jr., who represented Montgomery County and was the first openly gay person elected to the General Assembly, said he was “absolutely surprised” to hear what happened to Glass and had never experienced similar pushback.
Madaleno, who now serves as Montgomery’s budget director, said he believes that under President Trump some people have felt more emboldened to criticize public officials from underrepresented backgrounds.
“People now feel free to say whatever they want,” he said. “They’re lashing out, and unfortunately, council member Glass has been a convenient target.”
Some advocates, however, argue that deep-seated hostility toward LGBTQ individuals existed in Montgomery long before Trump.
“So many of us in liberal bubbles think this issue is settled, but no, nothing is settled,” said Mike Knaapen, president of the LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County. He pointed out that until this year, the county had made no organized effort to commemorate Pride Month, and he said there are still few bars or public spaces in the county where members of this community can comfortably gather.
Partap Verma, who will soon assume his position as the first openly gay member of the Montgomery County Planning Board, agreed.
“I want to think we’re a progressive society that doesn’t need to talk about these things, but what’s evident here is that we’re still not there,” said Verma, an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security.
Pride Month is over, but Glass said homophobic messages have continued to stream into his inbox. The council member, who has been public about his sexual orientation since 2000, said he is reading every email and comment and has no plans to hide or play down his identity.
On July 4, Glass walked in Takoma Park’s Independence Day Parade, his husband at his side.