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Pride Flag Once Again Stolen From Outside Pleasantville Church

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St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville recently had its pride flag stolen from the left side of its exterior sign.

The pride flag at Pleasantville’s St. John’s Episcopal Church was once again cut down from its corner sign at Bedford Road and Sunnyside Avenue, a disturbingly frequent occurrence at the landmark church.

Also referred to as the rainbow flag, it symbolizes solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning and asexual.

The latest incident occurred more than a week ago, and before that in September. During the summer a larger flag was stolen from the stone wall on the outside of the church building facing Sunnyside Avenue.

According to the Pleasantville Police Department, in July 2019, the flag was thrown on the ground and the flag’s brackets were damaged, and in January 2020 another of the church’s pride flags was pulled down.

“St. John’s stands in love for, and solidarity with, the LGBTQ+ community of which we, our family members, friends and neighbors are a part,” said St. John’s priest-in-charge, Rev. Chris Veillon. “The Episcopal Church has persistently supported this community since 1976, first clarifying that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church.”

The church chose not to inform the police about the incident. Veillon said the congregation was exploring additional security measures such as better lighting and security cameras.

That the church didn’t report the latest incident to the police wasn’t a surprise to Peter Russell, a longtime St. John’s parishioner.

“I don’t think it’s our job to be enforcers,” Russell said. “We hope whoever is vandalizing the flag would pause and reflect a bit and self-correct. It’s not something we like to see and I don’t think the village would like to see it either.”

Pleasantville Police Chief Erik Grutzner said his department became aware of the vandalism through secondhand information and immediately reached out to the church.

A photo of the vandalism and theft of the pride flag from in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in January 2020.

“We encourage any and all victims of crimes to report them immediately to the police department,” Grutzner said. “We are committed, in all of our investigations, to a victim-centric approach, regardless of whether the victim is an individual or an institution. We strive to act in a manner that brings relief to victims of crimes, and gives them a voice in their journey to closure.”

Vandalism to the gay pride flag has been ongoing across the U.S. According to news sources, during one week in June, the month of Pride celebrations, flags were stolen, slashed or burned in at least five states, including California, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

In June, for the first time in its 40-year history, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. Subsequently, legislation was proposed by Democrats in both chambers of Congress that would amend the Equality Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Even in Westchester, gay and trans people – including and especially children, youth and young adults – face enormous hurdles to acceptance, inclusion and physical safety,” Veillon said. “Attacks on symbols like the pride flag communicate the violence and hostility that these people face every day. As a sanctuary of God’s love, St. John’s is committed to our position of support.”

Veillon said every time a flag has been discovered missing or damaged, a parishioner puts up another flag.

“Our hope is that by using other avenues of community engagement and property adjustments we can deter further vandalism and engage more appropriate dialogue.”

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