During a National Coming Out Day Rally in New Carrollton this past Sunday, a small group of LGBTQ activists and Prince George’s County elected officials criticized New Carrollton’s Mayor Phelecia Nembhard, accusing her of making homophobic remarks during a recent public meeting, being dismissive of the concerns of LGBTQ residents, and threatening activists that have planned protests over the remarks.
Asked to comment for this article, Nembhard said by email that the accusations of homophobia and intimidation are false.
“There is no facts to that allegation,” said Nembhard in a brief reply to a request for an interview.
Nembhard did not rely to a followup request for an interview.
Central to this story are comments Nembhard made during a July videoconference meeting of the Four Cities Coalition, a group of elected officials from Greenbelt, College Park, Berwyn Heights and New Carrollton who advocate for common policy goals. During that meeting, a representative from the Prince George’s County Public Schools gave a presentation on the county’s implementation of the Welcoming Schools initiative, a program from the Human Rights Commission intended to prevent bullying of LGBTQ students.
According to transcripts from the videoconference text-chat function, during that presentation, Nembhard said “I am in total opposition of the teaching of Pre-K students about what they should feel. That is something their parents, pastor or counselor should discuss with them. When our ideas does not match their parent’s goals and aspiration, they commit suicide.”
Nembhard’s comment almost immediately drew reaction from College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, a gay man, who replied in the chat “I encourage everyone to educate themselves about the Welcoming Schools Initiative and what it is, and what it does. It does not work with pre-K children to explore their sexual orientation or gender identity, as some on this call are suggesting. What it DOES do is teach kids of all ages about what it means to have people of different gender identities and sexual orientations, and teach people to accept people regardless of what their gender identity or sexual orientation is.”
Later in the meeting, Nembhard said her thoughts on the matter were her own business.
“On the other topic that I put in the chat, that’s my personal opinion and I’m going to hold my personal opinion to myself,” said Nembhard.
Nembhard was elected to the Mayor’s office this past June, defeating former Mayor Duane Rosenberg with 57 percent of the vote, 1,139 votes to 835. Nembhard, a native of Jamaica, became New Carrolltons’ first African American and first female mayor. On social media she frequently shares Christian memes, bible verses and prayers.
Krystal Oriadha, a Seat Pleasant resident and social justice activist active with the Prince George’s County LGBTQ Dignity Project, said Nembhard’s comments on the Welcoming Schools initiative were revealing. After learning about those comments, Oriadha said her wife Cassy and other representatives tried to have conversations with Nembard about her remarks. Oriadha said those conversations were not productive. Oriadha accused Nembhard of intimidation, saying Nembhard noted she owned guns when representatives from the LGBTQ Dignity Project mentioned the possibility of holding a rally to protest the mayor.
“Who is the problem? It’s not people like us that create space for people to be loved,” said Oriadha during a speech at Sunday’s rally. “It’s people that spew words of hatred. It’s people that threaten and intimidate us by telling us they own guns. What’s that supposed to mean, right?”
Some LGBTQ New Carrollton residents said during Sunday’s event they regret voting for Nembhard in the city’s recent elections.
“When Phelecia Nembhard asked me to supper her campaign, I was delighted to. She was the first black woman to run for mayor in New Carrollton, a woman who was talking about immigrant communities first and people of color first, who I wanted to support for mayor,” said Briana Urbina during the rally. “So my heart was broken. Not when she said what she said. That didn’t upset me. It was when she closed the door on having further conversations about the needs of our community.”
Maryland politician Ashanti Martinez, who grew up in New Carrollton, said he was disappointed in Nembhard.
“As someone who supported Phelecia, I didn’t think I would be coming here today to actually have to protest her,” said Martinez during the rally. “Unfortunately, she doesn’t see what we all see and she doesn’t recognize the beauty of the diversity that exists within our community.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Martinez.
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