January 21, 2019 at 10:00 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Authorities say alleged threat against Md. drag pageant unconfirmed

Maryland State Police, gay news, Washington Blade
Maryland police have not been able to substantiate claims that someone threatened a drag pageant that was to have taken place on Solomons Island next month. (Photo by GoBlue85; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Officials with the Maryland State Police and the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office say they cannot verify a claim by the organizer of a drag pageant planned for Feb. 16 on Solomons Island that someone posted a threat against the event that mentioned the Pulse nightclub shooting.

George Connelly of the lead organizers of the event, the Miss Gay Southern Maryland America Pageant, emailed a message to the Washington Blade last week saying that after consulting with local police and the manager of the Holiday Inn at Solomons Island where the event was to be held, a joint decision was made to cancel it.

“So, over the weekend/and yesterday there were some very vicious comments written on one of my posts in a public forum about the Miss Gay Southern Maryland pageant,” Connelly said in his message. “The host venue and I both filed police reports in regards to the one comment made in particular, that dealt with the Pulse nightclub incident, how the ‘faggot’ community needs to learn they are not wanted here in ‘our’ community and how it was open hunting season on gays,” Connelly wrote.

Although Connelly didn’t mention the Holiday Inn by name he said in his email that he met with the general manager of the “host venue” and representatives of “local and state police” about the apparent threats. The Holliday Inn in Solomons was listed as the host venue in online advertising for the event.

“[I]t was determined that everyone thinks it is no longer safe to continue with the pageant as planned and with that in mind and acting on the advice of the local police department, the pageant is now cancelled,” Connelly stated in his message.

“Today bigotry and hatred won,” he said. “I’m feeling personally defeated but the show will go on in other places, at other venues, and in the future, maybe we can have a pageant or more shows in Southern Maryland,” he said.

Spokespersons for the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, which has law enforcement jurisdiction over Solomons Island, and the Maryland State Police, which also has jurisdiction over Solomons Island, told the Blade on Friday that Connelly never contacted them about the alleged threats and no police report was ever filed.

Jeff Shepherd, general manager of the Holiday Inn in Solomons, said he never met with Connelly and that it was the “event organizer’s” sole decision to cancel the drag pageant.

“I’m not aware of anything other than that,” Shepherd told the Blade. “It was a private function and it was his decision to cancel it.”

Capt. David Payne, the Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said his office first learned about the alleged threats when a reporter from the Calvert Recorder, the local newspaper, called the office to ask about the cancellation of the pageant. Payne said the reporter told him she saw Connelly’s announcement of the cancellation posted on social media.

“So, I called him and he says no, I don’t have any complaints,” Payne said. “I didn’t file anything,” he quoted Connelly as saying. “I think the Holiday Inn did.”

Payne said when he called the Holiday Inn he was told they knew little more than that Connelly said he was getting some threats and he wanted to cancel the event. Payne said that when he mentioned to a Holiday Inn official that Connelly told him a threat may have appeared on the Holiday Inn website, “the Holiday Inn says they don’t know what he’s talking about.”

He said Connelly also declined his request to send the Sheriff’s Office any evidence he had such as the text of the alleged threatening posting or a screen shot of the posting.

Connelly also declined a request by the Blade for a copy of or screen shot of the postings he said mentioned the Pulse nightclub massacre.

“I am not comfortable sharing the screen shot,” he told the Blade in a text message. “At this time, I’ve been advised by my attorney to give the above statement,” he said. “While I would love to share more, I think it best to leave it there. I apologize for not being able to be more helpful,” he said.

The “above statement” he referred to said, “As this cancellation and the issues around it play out in the civil and criminal legal systems, I unfortunately have no other comment than the event was cancelled due to security concerns. The safety of the attendees, guests and participants are of the utmost importance to me as an event organizer.”

Ron Snyder, a spokesperson for the Maryland State Police, said the State Police also have jurisdiction over Solomons Island and all of Calvert County, where Solomons is located. He noted that there is no separate police department in Solomons Island or any other community in Calvert County.

Similar to Payne, Snyder told the Blade that the State Police’s headquarters in Calvert County first learned about the alleged threats against the planned drag pageant from a local newspaper reporter who called police to ask about the cancelation of the pageant.

“So, I talked to a detective sergeant down at the Prince Frederick Barracks about your inquiry,” Snyder told the Blade. “And he said we have not received any calls about this. According to him, we have not been asked to investigate this at all.”

Added Snyder, “So we would definitely look into this if someone called us. But nobody has contacted us.”

Payne said that although it’s unlikely, it’s possible that Connelly could have met with or spoken with one or more law enforcement representative that Payne and the State Police officials who commented on the incident are not aware of. He said it would be up to Connelly to identify those representatives. So far he has not.

Connelly didn’t respond as of early Monday to a Blade text message and phone message asking him to comment on Payne and Snyder’s statement that he never called State Police or the Sheriff’s Office to report the alleged threats and subsequently never provided them with evidence that the threats occurred.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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