Pride flag vandalism raises concerns on Whidbey Island

Reports of theft involving LGBTQ+ pride-themed displays have increased around South Whidbey.

A banner advertising the upcoming Pride Parade in Langley was recently stolen from this visitor information center. (Photo provided)

A banner advertising the upcoming Pride Parade in Langley was recently stolen from this visitor information center. (Photo provided)

An increasing number of acts of vandalism and reports of theft involving LGBTQ+ pride-themed displays have been circulating around the South Whidbey community this month.

The latest incidents include banners stolen from South Whidbey High School and the Langley visitor information center as well as damaged flags and poles at the Langley United Methodist Church.

“I think it’s just a trend right now,” said Jeff Natter, a member of nonprofit organization South Whidbey Pride. “People are finding it more easy to be brazen about their hatred.”

Yet advocates can attest this is not the first time Pride flags, banners and other items have been targeted around Langley. As far back as September, staff at the South Whidbey Community Center noticed a Pride flag that had been flying for the past two years had been hacked down and replaced with an American flag. All that remained of the stolen flag were two tattered pieces. In March, a replacement flag secured with 50 zip ties was promptly slashed and tied in knots on the ground next to the flagpole two days after its raising.

Gail LaVassar, executive director of the community center, said outdoor cameras pointed at the flagpole are being added.

The interior of the building was not immune, either — Pride flags hanging from the ceiling were stolen multiple times and replaced. Materials from a resource table containing flyers, pronoun pins and mini Pride flags repeatedly ended up in the trash, although community center officials were able to identify the young perpetrator with cameras.

At least one private residence also recently lost a Pride flag to thieves over the weekend.

“Is it pranks? Is it vandalism? Is it a political statement?” Natter mused. “We don’t know.”

Church member Leneen Carr started an online fundraiser after the destruction Sunday at Langley United Methodist Church, which is home to an after-school program for youth called the HUB. As of Tuesday, $675 has been raised for the cause titled, “Stand with The HUB: Love Lives Here.”

Shelly Benton, executive director of the HUB, said the organization’s board of directors will meet to discuss security protocols in light of recent events.

“There is no doubt that LGBTQ youth need a safe place to gather and be themselves without fear of judgment or violence,” she said. “We have been that place for teens for the last 35 years.”

Similarly, the South Whidbey School District is planning on increasing surveillance. Superintendent Jo Moccia said the district has cameras and will likely add to them. A replacement for the banner stolen June 5 from the tennis courts, valued at over $200, has been ordered. A copious amount of zip ties did not stop the vandals.

In the absence of the banner, a community member affixed a sign on June 6 affirming that LGBTQ+ youth are loved and belong. It was subsequently removed and left behind on the grass on June 8, which also happened to be Graduation Day for South Whidbey seniors.

“Our plan is just to keep putting up those flags, keep putting up the banners,” said sophomore Leilani Floyd, president of the high school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance. “We will not stop for anything.”

A nationwide rise in homophobia, transphobia and anti-LGBTQ+ bills may be to blame for the hateful actions.

“It’s definitely not the Whidbey Island I used to know, especially South Whidbey,” Floyd said. “I never would have expected this to happen here.”

The fact that any pride displays are being torn down, Natter said, is disconcerting for a place like South Whidbey. He worried about property crime escalating or leading to physical violence.

Natter encouraged people to show their support by putting their own stickers in their windows or raising their own flags.

“We’re not going to let one voice, or several voices, silence our community’s strength,” he said.

Kira Erickson; kerickson@whidbeynewsgroup.com

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling publication to The Herald.

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