Council, Elrich denounce hate speech, harassment directed at health officer

Council, Elrich denounce hate speech, harassment directed at health officer

‘Hate has no place’ in community, officials say

| Published:

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles pictured at a press conference on March 12.

File photo

Montgomery County officials on Thursday released a public statement denouncing derogatory, racist and homophobic messages sent to Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, from people expressing anger and frustration with the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement came after Bethesda Beat reported Wednesday on the harassment that Gayles, who is Black, has received.

In an interview with Bethesda Beat and Bethesda Magazine on Tuesday, Gayles said the messages have been “concerning” and some have been reviewed by the Montgomery County Police Department. (The full interview will be published in the November/December issue of Bethesda Magazine.)

Many of the messages have included racist and homophobic slurs, he said, including comments that he was a “diversity hire.”

One person wrote that his parents should be embarrassed by him and said, “You don’t even know who your father is,” referring to a racist stereotype directed at Black people.

“How do you even put something like that in writing?” Gayles said Tuesday.

In their statement on Thursday, the council and Elrich said they are united in their support of Gayles, who has served as the county’s top health official since 2017.

“Hate has no place in our inclusive community,” they said. “We denounce all forms of hate speech and harassment. Montgomery County residents and public employees should be free to go about their daily lives and conduct their work without the fear of hate speech and harassment.

“This includes Dr. Gayles, who has received hate-filled comments and endured homophobic and racial slurs, while working relentlessly each day to combat the public health impacts of COVID-19.”

The officials said they are grateful for Gayles’ leadership in responding to the pandemic and “stand in solidarity” with him.

“In the face of the largest and most challenging global pandemic in modern history, Dr. Gayles has consistently followed the latest scientific data and evidence in his decision-making,” they said. “His work is instrumental in achieving our ultimate goal, which is protecting public health.”

Staff reporter Caitlynn Peetz contributed to this story.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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