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Cambridge church fears it's being targeted after rainbow flag is stolen

Posted by Brock Parker  September 20, 2011 03:11 PM

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After a rainbow flag hoisted at the First Parish in Cambridge last week, parishioners fear the Unitarian Universalist church is being targeted for its support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality and dignity. Photo courtesy First Parish in Cambridge.

The first time a rainbow flag was torn down from the First Parish in Cambridge last month during Hurricane Irene church officials were suspicious, but they chalked it up to the elements.

But when the flag disappeared last week after being re-hoisted even higher than before at the Unitarian Universalist church in Harvard Square, parishioners felt they were being targeted for their support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

Now the church, which first gathered in 1636 and traces its roots back to the Puritans, says it will keep replacing the flag as necessary and will take security measures to protect it.

“We have to respond to an attack on our values and the safety of our (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) members and the G.L.B.T community more broadly,” said Rev. Fred Small the senior minister at the church.

Small said parishioners believe the flag, which was hoisted on a wood pole that was set in a bracket affixed to the church, was stolen sometime between last Thursday night, Sept. 15, and the following afternoon when it was discovered missing by a sexton at the church.

The rainbow-flag is a well-known symbol in support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, and Small said similar flags have been targeted at other Unitarian Universalist churches in the Boston area.

A rainbow flag at the First Parish of Watertown was stolen and vandalized in 2009 before it was torched along with its flagpole beside the Unitarian Universalist church’s front door in July of that year.

The First Parish in Cambridge was recognized in 2002 by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a welcoming congregation for its support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, and two yeas later the church displayed a banner over its entrance in Harvard Square proclaiming “Support Marriage Equality. We Do.”

But Small said until now, the rainbow flag at the church had never been targeted. He said the flag was first found torn down last month when the remnants of Hurricane Irene swept through the area. At that time, the flag was found bundled at the front of the church, and Small said parishioners gave the elements the benefit of the doubt.

But Small recalled that the winds from Irene were not all that hard in Cambridge and the church was suspicious at the time because they did not believe the storm would have left the flag in the manner it was found.

Last week, when a sexton discovered the flag was missing, Small said a woman the church believes was homeless had the flag pole and said she had found it, but not the flag. She gave the pole back to the church, Small said.

The church reported the incident to Cambridge Police, who said the theft is being classified as a larceny and not a hate crime at this time. Cambridge Police spokesman Dan Riviello said no hate speech or threats were observed or reported regarding the missing flag, but if new evidence surfaces the incident could be reclassified.

Riviello said the larceny is being investigated in hopes of recovering the property and returning it to the church, and anyone with information is being encouraged to come forward and share it with police by calling 617-349-3300.

Small said the First Parish will hoist a new flag after it can schedule a re-dedication ceremony. In the meantime, the parish has been left to wonder why exactly the flag was taken.

“It’s hard to say what was going on in the mind of the person or persons who did this, and we have compassion for them,” Small said.

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