News (USA)

A church responded with love after a hateful vandal tore down its LGBTQ+-affirming banner

A rainbow flag on front of Trinity Church in New York.
Photo: Shutterstock

When a young man was caught on surveillance camera tearing down the rainbow Pride banner of an LGBTQ+-inclusive church in California, church leaders considered giving the camera’s footage to police or posting it on social media to help identify the vandal. Instead, however, the church responded by putting up a new banner addressing the vandal by name and welcoming him to speak with them.

The Parkside Community Church of Sacramento caught the vandalism on its security camera around 10:30 p.m. one night near the start of the new year. The camera’s microphone captured audio of someone off-screen yelling “Zach” as the curly-haired and glasses-wearing vandal sawed off the banner’s zip-tie bindings with a box cutter. The video recorded the vandal’s full face.

Instead of alerting the police and social media to identify Zach — something that is “not really what we’re about,” according to the church’s head of community outreach Leslie Serra — the church erected a new two-by-six-foot banner. The banner displayed a heart in the colors of the Progress Pride flag and a message that said, “Hey, Zach, do you want to talk about it?” It also displayed a QR code linking to an open letter addressed to the vandal.

“We noticed that you ran off with our flag,” the letter states, adding that the theft could be considered a hate crime. “We’re not sure if you intended to keep it or destroy it, but either way, we’re concerned because you looked really angry and awfully anxious.”

“We believe that no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey – you are welcome here,” the church’s letter continues. “At Parkside Community Church, we are a caring community, pursuing justice, practicing diversity, and promoting spiritual journeys.”

“So here’s the deal Zach,” it adds, “if you’re still feeling angry or anxious and you want to talk about it, click below!” The church added a contact link at the bottom of its open letter and told Zach (as well as other readers) that they can speak privately to a minister who is willing “just to listen.”

“I don’t think we want to publicly shame him or out him,” Serra said. “I don’t know what is going on with this kid. I don’t know what’s going on with anybody who’s going to read that sign. But we say every Sunday morning that all are welcome here at Parkside, and we ought to practice what we preach, even with Zach.”

The church said that over 20 banners expressing support for the LGBTQ+ and trans communities have been vandalized while displayed in front of the church over the past three years — so many, in fact, that replacement banners are now a regularly recurring line item in the church’s annual operating budget, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Ebony Harper — executive director of the trans healthcare organization California TRANScends — praised the church’s response, telling the aforementioned publication, “I think there is a space to educate. I think there is a space to love on Zach, even though Zach is doing something horribly wrong.”

The Sacramento Police Department said in a statement that, despite the church’s reaction, it’s important to report vandalism, especially if victims believe it to be a hate crime.

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