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Over 40 attacks on LGBTQ+ symbols occurred in 21 states during Pride month

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Attacks on rainbow flags, crosswalks, and other LGBTQ+ symbols occurred in over 40 cities nationwide during Pride Month, according to NBC News. Overall, the attacks occurred in 21 states; a majority occurred in blue states like California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, but some also occurred in red states like Idaho, Montana, Texas, and West Virginia.

While most of the theft and vandalism of these symbols seem to have been carried out by “lone wolf” individuals rather than coordinated by extremist groups, many local police, news reports, officials, and victims stated that this year’s number of attacks increased from previous years. The attacks have coincided with an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation from Republicans and other conservatives.

“We have seen an increase in hate-motivated violence against the LGBTQI community,” said acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “There are many communities that are afraid to report to state or local law enforcement officials, and sometimes those fears are rooted in a history of troubling relationships between those communities and their local law enforcement.”

In Boise, Idaho, an annual display of 60 rainbow flags was vandalized four times through June. Michael Dale, president of the board of directors of Boise Pride, the local LGBTQ+ advocacy group that sets up the display, said, “It happens all the time now. We have to go there and put them back up. But if there’s anything to say about Boise is that we’re resilient. No matter what the cost is, we’re not going to back down.”

One victim of vandalism, Amanda Gentry, said that when she first hoisted a rainbow Pride flag outside of her law firm’s office in rural Warren County, Tennessee, her gay associates warned her, “Do you want rocks thrown through your window?”

She wasn’t intimidated and wanted to show support for LGBTQ+ people in her small town. However, the night after she displayed the flag, a surveillance video camera outside the office caught a man cutting it down. Local news reports of the vandalism compelled some local conservatives to contact Gentry and express their disapproval of anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

“I had people who had never thought about it before — it resonated,” Gentry said. “And to me, that was worth every single bit of it. Period.”

Among the high-profile attacks, someone vandalized over 150 Pride flags outside the Stonewall Monument, a vandal shot a gun through a rainbow flag displayed in an Oregon library window, and police arrested three teens who vandalized a Pride crosswalk in Washington state.

These crimes have coincided with the introduction of at least 510 anti-LGBTQ+ bills nationwide by Republican legislators over the last year. More than 30 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have gone into effect in 2024, fewer than the 84 enacted in 2023, according to Human Rights Watch. The bills have predominantly targeted transgender youth, gender-affirming care, and LGBTQ+-inclusive policies in local schools. Concurrently, right-wingers have falsely vilified queer people and allies as “groomers” looking to “indoctrinate” and “sexualize” children.

In May, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued warnings about possible threats against Pride events carried out by foreign terrorist organizations. The State Department issued similar warnings during the same month.

In April 2023, the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF), a national civil rights group, warned that hate crimes would likely spike during the 2024 presidential election, just as they have during each of the last four presidential elections.

To help counteract such violence during the upcoming election season, the LCEF asked public officials to refrain from and speak out against hate speech. The LCEF also suggested that social media platforms invest in content moderation teams to de-platform sources of hate — even if those sources are political candidates or advertisements.

Additionally, the LCEF said that the federal government should confront and address white supremacist violence through existing civil rights infrastructure and not through federal anti-terrorism agencies, which have historically criminalized already marginalized communities.

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