Nagender Madavaram discussed with Councilmember Evan Glass about his vision, agenda and issues facing the County. This is the first of a 2-part transcript of the interview which covered the topics of his experience as a member of LGBTQ community, housing, racial justice and economy.
Nagender Madavaram: Good morning, Councilmember Evan Glass. Thank you for giving me your time. How are you doing?
Evan Glass: I’m doing well. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. It is a nice October morning and I’ve been out in the community already. Making sure that kids are safely able to walk to school. Having a few other conversations about growth plans here in the county. Thinking about the future, what we’re going to look like in 30 or 40 years from now. I’m glad to be here and now talking with you today.
Nagender Madavaram: You are the first LGBTQ family member elected to the County Council. When you revisit your political struggles how do you feel about your achievements?
Evan Glass: So, I am the first LGBTQ Plus member of the County Council. It has been somewhat of a tough time in some regards though we live in a beautiful and diverse community. One of the most diverse communities in the entire country. You know when you’re an LGBTQ Plus individual, sometimes, different cultures and different religious background people still treat you differently. One of the things that that I have worked on and throughout my life, at least since I came out, was making sure that Maryland became the first state to recognize marriage equality. I was a Board Member of Equality Maryland when we passed that in 2012. I realized after I became a Councilmember that there were not many events to celebrate. We have Pride month in June, so many people go down to Washington D.C or they go up Frederick, MD to celebrate, but there weren’t really any events here. I took it upon myself to organize the very first event, raising of the pride flag here in Rockville. I organized events for individuals of all different ages and all different types of families throughout Montgomery County. People were so excited and proud to be out and to celebrate in our own community. It didn’t come without backlash. When I first hosted the pride flag here in Rockville, a lot of people didn’t like it. They emailed and tweeted at me and inundated my office with phone calls, not only from Montgomery County but also from around the country. The message had gone viral and it was so hateful, so full of nastiness that my office, my staff, stopped answering phone calls for three days. The phone calls were just despicable. I’m an elected official, and so I can take the criticism as nasty as it might be, but my staff should not be subjected to that same kind of language, which is why we stopped answering the phones. We worked to change hearts and minds. I’m delighted to say that the next year, we were able to do so without any concern and any hatred. We did so again this year. For the third time, we’ve been able to change hearts and minds. We make sure that everybody feels welcome and loved here in Montgomery County, regardless of where you’re from, the language you speak, where you pray, who you love or how you identify.
Nagender Madavaram: Your situation is not just black and white like your colleagues. You are in complex and challenging situation. Montgomery County is the home of many diversified cultures. The growing minority population gives strength to representatives of people of color. There is no guarantee that the new immigrants accept and support your life style as they have different faiths and beliefs. They may agree with your political agenda but they may not support you. It is a super challenge for you to gain their support. You have to win each and every heart. How are gaining their confidence and support?
Evan Glass: Montgomery County is a beautifully diverse community with 1.1 million people and four of the 10 top most diverse communities in the entire country. We’re right here in Montgomery County and we know that our diversity is our strength. Sometimes diversity is hard to try and reconcile. There have absolutely been times where my husband and I have been walking when we’re holding hands and I get the stares. I’ve had insults said to me before being a Councilmember. Currently, being a Councilmember, my style of leadership is all about changing hearts and minds. That’s the only way we’re going to make long lasting positive change by bringing people along with us. Sharing with them that everybody is deserving of love and respect. We all deserve to live here in Montgomery County. The work certainly does continue. I certainly continue to face homophobia in certain times in my life as a Councilmember as well. I’m committed to making sure that everybody feels safe. We are going to keep working on it because it’s the right thing.
Nagender Madavaram: Schools are playing an important role in educating students to accept the LGBTQ community with the result, young generation is accepting the LGBTQ community in comparison with older generation. Are you participating in the events organized by the schools? What is your experience when you interact with the students in the schools?
Evan Glass: I didn’t come out of the closet until after college at 23 years of age, which given today’s time is old. Many young people are coming out in middle school and high school now. Some even younger and they are very firm. They know that they are members of the LGBTQ Plus community and others are still figuring it out. We’re all on our own journey in life, discovering who we are and discovering the world around us but what they need is support. I’ve been working with youth groups to make sure that young people get acceptance because not everybody comes from a home where they’ll be loved. In some instances, a place to stay in case they were kicked out of their home. I’m excited that there will be a new center opening soon for members of the LGBTQ Plus community if they need a safe space. Now, on the other side of the age spectrum, we have seniors and there are more and more seniors who are coming out as they get older. There are also a number of seniors who are already out but they’re trying to find a place where they can live out the best days of their lives in a peaceful, and respectful environment. There has been discrimination against some individuals because of their LGBTQ Plus status or even because of being HIV positive. I introduced the Bill of Rights last year and the Council unanimously passed it. The bill recognized the civil rights of the LGBTQ Plus community. I’m hoping that it gets passed in Annapolis and becomes state law as well. Seniors should not live in fear and they should be able to live out the best days of their lives safely and peacefully where they want.
Nagender Madavaram: For the first time, Montgomery County government has appointed a Liaison Officer for the LGBTQ community. How is it functioning and do you propose some more initiatives from the County government?
Evan Glass: Actually, I have a conversation with the LGBTQ Liaison later today to talk about a number of things. Actually, it is LGBTQ History Month right now and a number of organizations are hosting events, and that’s what I’m having a conversation with them about. I think, they need to focus on the youth space to make sure that our young people feel safe. There are programs that can be created using the County funds to create more safe spaces. We can make sure that all of our children in schools are learning about LGBTQ history as part of American history and world history. Ultimately, they have social workers to be able to confide, talk about their situation and their journey. I think Montgomery County can do more to support our young people as they discover themselves and make sure that they grow up in a safe and caring environment.
Nagender Madavaram: Housing is a basic need of the people. Some countries treat it as fundamental right. We do have problem. Nearly 35.22 percent of residents are renters and also most of the employees in essential services are living in other counties. How do you solve the problem? Do you have any out of box solutions?
Evan Glass: This is serious problem. We have a housing crisis on our hands here in Montgomery County and across the country where we haven’t built enough housing for individuals and the cost of housing just continues to increase. I think there’s a number of things that we need to do. We need to build more housing for more people. People want to live in different types of housing. Someone will live in a single-family home or in a duplex. Someone will live in a high-rise apartment complex or in an accessory dwelling unit. I think all of those are choices and individuals would opt for them. We also must build more affordable housing. We need to make sure that government support for affordable housing continues to grow. Right now, I believe we spend about $77 million every year to support affordable housing. I would support the increase of that fund to $100 million or even more so that we can continue to increase our supply. Ultimately, we must make sure that we’re able to build housing for youth who are facing some incredibly high rents. Quite frankly, many young people are not even moving to Montgomery County. I think we need to change other aspects of life here in Montgomery County to make young people want to move here. It’s going to take all of the above approaches to build more housing for those who need it and make sure that we’re able to support residents at the lowest level so that they don’t get forced out of the community that they call home.
Nagender Madavaram: You have initiated a resolution which prohibited the County government from asking previous salary of hired employees. In fact, this helped minorities and women get salaries on par with other colleagues. You broke the chain and gave a new bargaining opportunity. What made you want to introduce the act?
Evan Glass: Well, I’m extremely proud that the Montgomery County Pay Equity Act was the first piece of legislation I introduced and unanimously passed at the Council. Part of that is because I grew up in a household with a single mother who worked two jobs. I know how much she struggled just to provide opportunities for me and be able to make a good life for me. When I joined the County Council and started hiring my team and I saw the hiring process. Members of my team were asked how much money they were making in their previous job. I thought to myself, why are they being asked? That has no bearing on the job we’re currently doing. If you know the history of wages and wage discrimination, you know that women and people of color earn less than white men. White women earn about 75% of what White men earn. Black women earn about 69% and Hispanics earn around 50% of what White men earn right now. If they’re already earning less and then you’re deciding their future pay on that low wage, I looked into it and I recognized that that was wrong. I saw that there was real wage discrimination. I’m going to be getting a report in the coming months to see how the law changed pay scale for new hires. We are also committed to making that change at the state level as well. I’m working with various State Senators and Delegates to make sure that the State of Maryland adopts a similar act. Ultimately, we know that a fair day’s work deserves a fair pay.
Nagender Madavaram: I tried to buy a home in Gaithersburg City in 2002. At that time, it was a seller’s market. There was a bidding for a house. So, I bid $15,000 more than the other bidders. The homeowner communicated to me that he lived there for decades among his white neighbors and he can’t be a reason to allow a person of color to reside in the neighborhood. He preferred to lose 15,000 dollars rather hurting the feelings of his neighbors. He didn’t sell me the house. Do you feel any discrimination in the housing for LGBTQ community?
Evan Glass: Here in the state of Maryland and in Montgomery County, law banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or status a number of years ago. We’ve been doing a lot of really good social action and social justice. Adopted various measures long before I joined the Council. I’m so proud that my predecessors on the Council and county residents have recognized the importance. There has been discrimination that has occurred in housing and particularly, in rental housing. Five apartment complex owners are able to ban people who’ve had victimless crimes essentially, who have been arrested for low level, petty or victimless crime. In Montgomery County, if you are an individual experiencing homelessness because you can’t afford a home or you have mental health issues and you happen to be outside and there’s no bathroom around, you urinate outside and you’re arrested for that action. That arrest record could have prevented you from getting rental housing though you don’t have previous criminal record according to the police. What I’ve done is ban the use of criminal history for low level victimless crime. The individuals who were formerly homeless are overwhelmingly Black men. The individuals who are coming out of incarceration for a low-level victimless crime cannot be banned from rental housing because of it. Various reasons forced them to be homeless or forced them to commit other crimes. So, as we continue trying to find ways to make our community fairer the Housing Justice Act that I passed is one small way to trying to level the playing field and get more people off the street.
It is extremely unfortunate you had a bad experience. I’m sorry to hear that that happened to you. And you know there are laws in place that ban all types of discrimination in Maryland. Unfortunately, situations like that arise, and so if that ever happens to you again, don’t hesitate to reach out or for anybody who is listening to this conversation. Please know that they can always report those incidents to me. I will do everything in my power to correct it.
Nagender Madavaram: Montgomery County has a geographical advantage to get new businesses in Federal Government as it is located near the nation’s capital. The County has a corporation to attract new businesses. Do you think the county is exploring the advantage?
Evan Glass: I think that’s a really important question. If we want to maintain our quality of life and make sure that we have the resources for those who need homeless services, to provide more money to our schools, to make sure that there’s rental assistance, food programs for those who are hungry then we need to use our tax revenue in order to finance it. Part of our tax revenue comes from home values and businesses. The taxes are generated from these businesses. The ecosystem is here and that is one of the reasons why I passed a bill in my first session that expands support for our biotech life sciences and medical research centers. Recognizing that we have the Federal Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and we have a very large footprint for the Federal HHS Department in Montgomery County, I think we need to capitalize on them. Northern Virginia has boomed over the last 20 years because of the tech sector. The fact is that AOL used to be headquartered in Northern Virginia which attracted other tech companies. During the Global War on Terror, after 9/11, hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the Pentagon and the defense industry, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia. They received a lot of federal support which helped much of Northern Virginia grow. Here, across the Potomac, we do not have the Pentagon and defense industry. We have the life sciences and FDA. We need to capitalize on them and we can truly unlock our potential because we have some incredible international organizations based right here along the 270 corridor. Some companies based in East County next to the FDA, are doing cutting edge research and helping to protect our planet from COVID-19. That’s why I have introduced the legislation that expands economic opportunities and grant opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to start life sciences and biotech companies in Montgomery County. On the flip side, the pandemic also showed us that we need to support small businesses and cut red tape. We built regulatory systems decades ago thinking that we needed to safeguard every aspect of small business and entrepreneurship. What we saw during the pandemic is that we need to cut red tape and help our small businesses flourish. It is essential to help restaurants by reforming our liquor laws so that when you order an enchilada or a taco from the local restaurant, you can also get a margarita delivered with it.
There was also another thing called a trading fee, and it had been around for almost 100 years. The trading fee was an administrative fee, and, in some cases, you had to pay upwards of $800 to $1000 just to operate. There was an opportunity for us to dramatically reduce those fees from $800 to $15. I was proud to lead a bill that cut those fees as well because if you’re a mom-and-pop business, I know $800 isn’t going to change whether you do stay open or not but at the end of the day or at the end of the year, $800 is $800. If we were charging it just because that’s the way it had been done for decades and almost a century, I thought that now is a good time to show that we’re supporting our small businesses, especially during a pandemic. These are just a few examples of how we have made it harder to do small business. There are small reforms that we can do, when added together, provide actual relief, and allow our small businesses and entrepreneurs to do a better job. I welcome suggestions, if anybody else has any ideas that can make our economy grow and operate a little more smoothly. I welcome those ideas.