Metro Weekly

Gay Pride Banner Ripped Off Bethesda Church

Security camera video footage shows an unidentified suspect in white hoodie tearing down the rainbow-colored banner.

Torn pride flag at Bethesda United Methodist Church. – Photo courtesy of Dennis Williams.

A large gay Pride banner was ripped off the side of a church in Bethesda, Maryland.

According to local news site MOCO 360, on Thursday, Nov. 7, at around 9:35 p.m., a security camera captured an unidentified suspect in the act of vandalism.

Video shows the person tearing and pulling down part of a two-story-tall Pride banner hanging from the exterior of Bethesda United Methodist Church, located on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.

The vandalism was first discovered by Dennis Williams, the children’s minister for the church, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, as he was leaving the church last Thursday.

“It was like a punch in the stomach,” Williams said of the destruction of the banner, which was installed back in June in recognition of LGBTQ Pride Month. “It was gut-wrenching. It made me emotional, because we belong to a church that is so welcoming and has embraced us as a family so well. It was really sad to see.”

Williams had believed anti-LGBTQ sentiment had largely subsided, especially in liberal areas like Montgomery County.

“Back in the day, I would have understood that, but now, living where we live and being in such a supportive church, it hurt,” he said.

The Montgomery County Police Department has not determined whether the vandalism constitutes a hate crime.

According to news radio station WTOP, the security camera footage shows the suspect wearing a white hoodie.

Unfortunately, their face is not distinguishable in the footage, which shows the vandal first trying to tear down the banner by hand but later using a tool to cut off a section of the banner, which was bolted to the church’s exterior wall.

The church had installed security cameras earlier this year after hearing reports of other incidents in which churches and local residences were targeted for hanging up Pride flags and banners.

Last year, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church rededicated its progress Pride flag after it was targeted two separate times: once, when it was stolen, and a second time, when it was cut down off the church’s flagpole.

In January, Pilgrim Church in Silver Spring saw its Pride flag slashed in half. In June, several Pride flags hanging outside homes in downtown Silver Spring were burned and destroyed

Williams told WTOP that the Bethesda United Methodist Church church laity has already voted to replace the damaged banner with a new one. 

“It is important for our church to put it up so the LGBTQ+ community knows we’re a supportive church,” Williams said. “We’re not gonna let this stop us.”

Despite being one of Maryland’s most liberal counties, Montgomery County has experienced an increase in the number of bias-motivated incidents, increasing 69% from 2018 to 2022, according to the Montgomery County Police Department.

Statistics from the department show that 13% of all bias-motivated incidents were related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Williams said that despite having a progressive local government, Montgomery County residents need to be on guard due to the increase in bias-motivated incidents.

“You think we live in a county that is open and progressive, but it’s not always so,” he said. “Everyone takes it for granted, they assume this can’t happen in Montgomery County. They’re shocked to know that it happened because they think it can’t happen here until it does.”

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