For Byron Macfarlane, becoming register of wills in Howard County, Md., followed a logical succession of events. He sensed an opening and went for it.
Macfarlane took an estates and trusts course in law school and enjoyed it. He was later working at a law firm with a growing probate practice and was given a bunch of cases and told to “figure it out.”
He familiarized himself with the registers of wills — a position only Maryland and a few other states have — and found it “really fascinating,” the 36-year-old Ellicott City, Md., native says. Macfarlane knew the person in the seat — each Maryland county has its own — was one of the last Republicans left in elected office in the county. According to the state constitution, the register “is responsible for appointing personal representatives to administer decedents’ estates and for overseeing the proper and timely administration of these proceedings.”
“I started asking around about what people thought of her, if they had seen her out and about lately, and the impression I got was that she had really lost touch with the community,” he says. “So, I ran. Public office is how I can give back to the community that has given me so much. It’s a chance to help people and make their lives a little easier and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to serve.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. His opponents started playing the “gay card” as soon as he decided to run in 2010.
“I was running against a six-term incumbent Republican,” Macfarlane says. “‘You know he’s gay, right?’ is the line she would repeat to voters. She and her supporters told people I was part of a gay mafia. This whisper campaign was both hateful and frankly, bizarre.”
Those same folks united behind a GOP challenger in 2018 who argued residents deserved a “better” public servant, Macfarlane says.
“There’s a way that Republicans talk about others, meaning women, people of color, non-Christians and those of us who identify as LGBT,” he says. “They talk about us like we’re inherently inferior because of who we are. And what becomes dangerous is when one human being views another human being as inherently inferior, they adjust their behavior accordingly. How far you might go to tear someone down changes. How personal and hateful and borderline violent you are toward them changes. I’m fairly certain if I were straight, married, with kids, my opponent wouldn’t have been so eager to get personal and dirty. I’m glad the voters rejected the hate.”
Macfarlane is up for reelection in 2022.
Howard County has its first Pride event on Saturday, June 29 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Details at howardcountypride.org.
Macfarlane says there’s a large LGBT population in the county and an active PFLAG chapter, though not the same degree of community one generally finds in cities.
Macfarlane is a life-long Howard County resident. He’s single and lives in Columbia, Md. He enjoys biking, hiking, cooking, reading and board games in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out in 2006. The hardest person to tell was my mother. She was raised in a conservative Catholic family and had been a lifelong Republican (she switched parties and got active in local Democratic politics after I came out). I had no idea what to expect, really, but after I told her she simply said, “You’re my son and I love you no matter what.” I couldn’t ask for a more loving and supportive mother and am so grateful for her.
Who’s your LGBTQ hero?
Harvey Milk. He helped blaze the trail to make it possible for people like me to run for office.
What LGBTQ stereotype most annoys you?
I try to find humor in just about everything so I’m not sure there is one.
What’s your proudest professional achievement?
My grandfather, also named Byron, was a CPA and had regretted never getting his law degree. He was thrilled that I chose to go to law school, giving him the chance to sort of fulfill this life goal of his vicariously. He was a constant source of support and encouragement. I graduated and became the first lawyer in our family just a few months before he passed away.
What terrifies you?
What’s something trashy or vapid you love?
Comedy Central Roasts (William Shatner’s was the best).
What’s your greatest domestic skill?
Cooking! I’m a very adventurous cook.
What’s your favorite LGBTQ movie or show?
“The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert”
What’s your social media pet peeve?
Vaguebooking. Just spit it out, people.
What would the end of the LGBTQ movement look like to you?
It’s hard to imagine when the work will end. I’d say a few signs we’re on our way would be the absence of state-sponsored discrimination and hate, like bathroom bills and “religious freedom” initiatives, nationwide legal protections for all LGBTQ Americans and the general cultural rejection of heteronormativity.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Saying farewell to a host before leaving a party. I support the Irish goodbye.
What was your religion, if any, as a child and what is it today?
I was raised Episcopalian and have a lot of fond memories of church services and Sunday school. Today, I’d say I’m spiritual but not religious.
What’s Howard County’s best hidden gem?
In Patapsco Valley State Park, you can hike to the ruins of St. Mary’s College and walk around the Thomas Viaduct, the world’s oldest multiple arched stone railroad bridge (still in use).
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
“Lord of the Rings” being made into movies. My friends and I do a marathon of the extended editions every year.
What celebrity death hit you hardest?
Politician: Paul Wellstone. Non-Politician: Carrie Fisher.
If you could redo one moment from your past, what would it be?
I’ve seen enough time travel movies to know if you change something in the past, it can dramatically unravel the present. My past mistakes, however regrettable, have all pushed me to learn and grow and have led me to where I am today.
What are your obsessions?
Politics, history, exploring new and unique things in the world, trying new food, nature, “Star Trek” and dance mixes of songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Finish this sentence — It’s about damn time:
We had more LGBTQ Americans in state and local elected office, in judgeships, in Congress and in the White House. We have a lot of “firsts” left to go.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
How quickly time flies in adulthood. It’s so important to carefully safeguard our spare time and make sure it’s being spent on our own well-being and on people who love us.
Why Howard County?
There’s something really special about this place. Howard County is in my bones and I just love living here and helping the people I serve. Relocating does cross my mind sometimes. I also really love both D.C. and Baltimore, so who knows what the future holds?