An unidentified man was spotted on security camera footage stealing a gay-owned business’s Pride flag and writing “groomers” on the sidewalk, and someone did the same to a house with a Pride flag nearby and to a house in a different neighborhood.
“Lancaster is my sanctuary,” Charlie Ballard of Lancaster, Pennsylvania told Lancaster Online, one of the people who live in the house. “I don’t want racists and bigots living in the city.”
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On May 7, the man stole a Pride flag from Ballard and their fiance Rob Gay. That person wrote “GROOMERS” on the sidewalk in chalk outside their home, and he was caught on a neighbor’s security camera.
Gay and Ballard said they felt targeted for hatred.
“Why else would you steal a $10 flag?” Ballard said.
The couple said that they hung out last Saturday evening on their porch to see if the person from the video would pass by since he couldn’t be identified, and someone who looked like him did.
Gay said that they saw someone who looked like the man in the video and that he had an “oh crap” look but denied stealing the flag. They told him they had him on video stealing it but he did not want to watch it.
A similar thing happened to a gay-owned business in Lancaster: the business’s rainbow flag was stolen and the word “GROOMERS” was written on the building. The business 0wner did not want to be identified in the media because he feared retaliation.
The handwriting was the same and the person in the business’s security footage is the same as the person in Gay and Ballard’s neighbor’s footage, according to Lancaster Online.
A woman who lived in the northwest of the city said that she found the word “GROOMER” written on her house when she was out of town, but a neighbor took a picture of it and sent it to her and her wife.
“It was really unsettling at first,” she said. She did not want to be identified either. “We were like, was someone stalking us? We have two children so that also put us on edge.”
“These petty and hateful messages are not welcome in our community,” said Lancaster Council President Izzy Smith-Wade-El.
All the victims reported the incidents to police, but a spokesperson for the police said that there was no property damage and no threats made with the chalk messages, so they were considered non-criminal. The theft of the flags is being investigated, saying that the department might publicly release images from the videos to help identify the suspect.
This year, conservatives have turned “groomer” and “grooming” into anti-LGBTQ slurs, referring to LGBTQ teachers and supporters as groomers, which is effectively calling them pedophiles.
“Grooming” is a set of manipulative behaviors sexual predators use to gain access to potential victims, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of getting caught, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). The process usually involves training the victims to keep secrets from adults they trust and desensitizing them to sexual discussions and touching.
The term grew in popularity partly due to the influential “Libs of TikTok” Twitter account, where realtor Chaya Raichik posts videos of LGBTQ teachers and accuses them of pedophilia. Conservatives have gone so far as to accuse the Trevor Project of being a pedophilic operation because they run a crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth.