Three days after an arsonist set fire to several North Baltimore rowhouses in what some neighbors believe was targeted toward LGBTQ flags, the Mount Vernon community gathered to celebrate Pride month with a Saturday block party.
The Wednesday morning fire in the 300 block of East 31st Street in the Abell neighborhood sent three people to the hospital. Authorities have not declared it a hate crime, but neighbors say one of the destroyed homes had Pride symbols out front and a Pride flag on a house across the street was torched at the same time.
“I’ve been an ally of the gay community for many, many, many years. And it just sickens me when things like that happen,” said Lisa Chapin Suit, a Mount Vernon resident who organized Saturday’s block party with two others.
Their goal was to bring a Pride event back to Mount Vernon, which for decades had been where Baltimore’s annual Pride parade started until officials relocated it in 2018 to Station North.
There were vendors, exhibits and DJs playing music as attendees, some dressed for the occasion in rainbow colors, danced and browsed merchant’s offerings at the event.
Several armed security guards also monitored Saturday’s festivities in the 200 block of Read Street in Mount Vernon. After the fires, Suit said the group is taking precautions at the party.
“I have a full security force that’s going to be there all day,” Suit said.
Brian Dolbow, one of the vendors and a gay man, said that if Wednesday’s fire turns out to be a hate crime, it shows that “there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Dalbow, who has lived in Mount Vernon for about 10 years, is president of B & Dee’s Baltimore Love, a local nonprofit that fights food insecurity in the city.
He said there’s a lot of homelessness and food insecurity in the LGBTQ community, especially in the youth population, which is why he showed up Saturday to offer services. His booth also passed out Pride flags.
“We really can’t live in fear,” Dalbow said. “I mean, there’s so much crime across our city, not just against the LGBTQ community. It’s everywhere. And it’s sad and unfortunate. But that’s still a sign that we as a community still have a lot to do.”
On Thursday, residents of the Abell and Charles Village neighborhoods displayed pride flags as an act of solidarity with the victims of the fire.
Earlier this week, a Harford County teacher says she was harassed on social media after a viral video showed her waving a pride flag in the school’s hallway.
And there have been other reported instances recently were Pride flags were torched, including in the Locust Point neighborhood last month.
Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford said in a statement that investigators believe someone set the Abell fire about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Baltimore Police spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge said the fire investigation is active and police are determining the cause and motive.
Eldridge said police don’t have enough information to suggest there’s a pattern, but noted that investigators are looking into another incident that happened last month involving a burned Pride flag.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting Baltimore Police in the investigation.