Near the end of Baltimore Pride, a joyous, weeklong celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, the sign at the entrance to the city’s Homeland neighborhood was vandalized with an anti-gay slur.

Resident Lisa Polyak said she noticed the graffiti Sunday morning as she was returning home from brunch with her partner. The two women were at the heart of a 2005 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that preceded marriage equality in Maryland in 2012.

Photos taken by Polyak and shared with The Banner show the “e” in the hand-carved, wooden sign situated at the corner of Charles Street and St. Albans Way was taped over and replaced with a spray-painted “o.”

By early afternoon, the tape had been removed but some of the black spray paint was still visible.

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“I think the person who did this was trying to intimidate and scare people,” said Polyak, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years. “The irony of course is Homeland is a very welcoming neighborhood for LGBT residents.”

Lisa Polyak sits with her partner, Gita Deane, and their cat in their Baltimore home. The two women discovered Sunday the sign for their neighborhood had been vandalized with an anti-gay slur. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

Mayor Brandon Scott denounced what he called a hateful act of vandalism as “simply unacceptable in Baltimore” and called for a full investigation into the incident.

“We will never stop working to build a city that welcomes and protects everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Scott said. “Hateful acts like this one will never deter us.”

City police officers responded to the 100 block of St. Albans Way for a destruction of property incident this morning, said Lindsey Eldridge, a spokesperson for the department. She added that an investigation into the incident is active and ongoing.

Londyn Smith de Richelieu, the director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, called the vandalism a sad reminder of the threat the community still faces.

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“When you go to the Pride Parade, you forget. People get so caught up in the party, you forget about the protest,” she said. “We have come a long way. But in that space we have gotten so comfortable and complacent.”

Councilman Mark Conway, who represents the Homeland neighborhood, said he was disappointed to see “this kind of juvenile vandalism the same weekend as Baltimore celebrated our vibrant LGBTQ community. We shouldn’t let this act detract from the joy and pride thousands are feeling this month.”

Polyak said an old version of the sign had been defaced in the past and that the graffiti was often dismissed and blamed on misbehaving college students. But she doesn’t believe that explanation tracks this time because school is out for summer. She said the effort applied and timing of the vandalism seemed intentional.

“The person who did this was trying to say, ‘You may have pride, but I will send out a message of hate for you this weekend,’” Polyak said. “The person who did this wants us to think, ‘If you’re gay and you’re out, it’s not safe.’”

She expects the Homeland Association that installed the sign to repair it as it has done in the past. But Polyak said she hopes the vandalism doesn’t deter city leaders from supporting LGBTQ+ citizens. “This campaign of fear is a last resort,” she said. “May our communities not be cowed by this behavior.”

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Vice President of the Homeland Association board Michael Burns said students who defaced the neighborhood sign in the past scrawled “juvenile” phrases like Ho land or Weedland. As far as he knows, this is the first time the vandalism has been hateful. And yes, the association plans to repair the sign this week.

Burns said he lives across the street from the sign and flies Pride flags on his house every June to show support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“I suspect the vandal was reacting to our flags, which are visible from Charles,” he said in an e-mail. “He or she will be disappointed to see them again next year.”

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