Mark Heare was awoken Wednesday morning by a flurry of texts from neighbors stating, “they were hit.”
Quickly understanding the texts’ meaning, Heare raced to the front of the home he shares with his husband, Chris Middleton, on Deerfield Avenue to find their pride flag, attached to a rabbit decoration on their house was burned.
“I walked out, and the ones in the flowerbeds were fine. But as I turned around and came back into the house, the [pride flag] that’s closest to the door that was behind the figure of a rabbit…was burnt,” Heare said. “I’m like OK, well, we got hit too.”
Heare said that because the perpetrators burnt the flag while it was still hanging, there were burn marks on his house.
Heare and Middleton were among around 10 reported incidents of pride flags, Ukrainian flags and other messages, including a Black Trans Lives Matter flag and “this county is for everyone” yard signs, being torched and vandalized Tuesday night in downtown Silver Spring.
Montgomery County police said the perpetrators targeted Mansfield Drive, Wayne Place, Ellsworth Place, Greenbrier Drive, Pershing Drive and Deerfield Avenue neighborhoods.
Heare and Middleton also had a ring camera on their house that caught video of the perpetrators. Heare said that there were multiple people involved that looked like teenagers who laughed as they ran away, which has been corroborated by other neighbors.
Many residents found it strange that “USSR,” which represents the Soviet Union, was torched into people’s flags.
Keith Hudolin, who lives on Deerfield Road, said his Ukrainian flag was burned with the letters “USSR.” He said that someone broke the flagpole off his house, and it was later found down the street.
“The reaction was just shock and disappointment. We’ve had that flag flying since the beginning of Russia’s war there. I was very shocked to see that happen in Montgomery County,” Hudolin said.
Dan Reed, regional policy director for Greater Greater Washington and vice president of the East Silver Spring Civic Association, lives on Hartford Avenue and used to live on Mansfield Road. Reed, who uses they/them pronouns, said their neighborhood was not affected, but they are still concerned.
“I woke up this morning a little worried that I was going to find out that it had come to our street,” Reed said.
Reed said that after something like this happens, allies need to continue to help foster a welcoming, diverse community for LGBTQ+ individuals because it takes a lot of time and work.
“Being a diverse place isn’t something you are; it’s something you actively do,” Reed said.
Hudolin prides himself on being one of these allies for his community. Like his neighbors, he already bought new flags. However, instead of just buying a Ukrainian flag to replace his burnt one, he decided to add a pride flag too.
“I didn’t have one before, but when I saw what happened to the ones my neighbors were flying, I said: ‘I’m gonna put one up tonight,’” Hudolin said.
The Montgomery County Council released a statement Wednesday condemning “these alarming incidents” and promoting inclusion and support for LGBTQ+ individuals. They also placed these recent incidents in context.
“This disturbing spate of hate crimes and vandalism follows record high levels of hate and bias incidents in Montgomery County,” the statement said, adding that the reported number of bias incidents in the county had risen from 143 in 2021 to 157 in 2022. “We must step up to combat these alarming incidents.”
Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-Large) said that this type of hate will not be tolerated in the county and the council’s recent policies have aligned with that.
“These incidents occurred one day after the council voted unanimously to establish an Anti-Hate Task Force, which will lead the efforts to ensure that everyone feels safe living, praying and being their authentic selves in our community,” Glass said. “Our work must continue to ensure our LGBTQ+ community feels safe and protected.”
Glass said that these incidents are extremely personal for him.
“My husband and I live in the neighborhood and as the first openly LGBTQ+ councilmember, I am sickened by these acts of terror,” Glass said.
Council member Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4), whose district includes Silver Spring, also has a personal connection to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m the parent of two LGBTQ individuals, and it just hits home,” Stewart said. “It’s heartbreaking to think that this could happen in our community. We know the impact it has on individuals who live here.”
Stewart said Ukrainian flags being burned in addition to LGBTQ+ flags is an example of the spread of right-wing rhetoric and hate around the country.
“It’s [bringing] hostility to our community as it is expressing solidarity to a country that is being invaded,” Stewart said.
Alan Bowser, the president of Safe Silver Spring and the Park Hill Civic Association, said that members of the community are shocked and saddened because their neighborhoods are known to be incredibly supportive.
“Some of the gay people have said they’re disappointed because they thought this was a welcoming community, and that belief was broken by this activity,” Bowser said. “There are people who look at these communities generally being very safe.”
Bowser hosted a Zoom call Wednesday evening to discuss what happened with any neighbors who wanted to attend. During the meeting, Bowser reassured residents that police would be doing extra night patrols in the neighborhood for the next few days.
Many residents spoke up and shared their support at the meeting.
“I just want to cover this entire neighborhood with pride flags,” Elsie Heyrman Klumpner said. “There’s great diversity [here], and we all cherish each other.”
Community leaders, including Paula Edwards, commissioner of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission Single Member District 4A01, also showed their support.
“We’re sorry that we couldn’t get through Pride month without a hate crime,” Edwards said in a comment during the Zoom chat.
These incidents occurred as Pride month comes to a close. Silver Spring had its “Pride in the Plaza” event on June 25.
Montgomery County Police ask that if anyone has surveillance videos of potential suspects, they should call the police non-emergency line at 301-279-8000. Also, police said that anyone with information regarding the suspects should call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).