The removal of LGBTQ Pride flags and confederate flags being hung in their place on the campus of Virginia Tech University is under investigation for anti-LGBTQ intimidation.
The incident took place outside the office of the Wesley Center at Virginia Tech, a United Methodist Church campus ministry. According to a Facebook post from the Wesley Center, the flags were switched out in the early morning hours of August 7 in multiple locations outside of the building. This apparently was the third time in the last two weeks that the Pride flags outside Wesley, which “have flown for years,” have been torn down, but it is the first time the hate symbol of the confederacy was hung in their place.
“This active display of hate is unacceptable and malicious … We strive to make Wesley a safe and affirming place for all people,” read the Wesley Center’s statement. “This hate crime goes against all that we believe, and we want our LGBTQ+ community to know that we will always love, support and embrace you with open arms.”
The Wesley Center’s Facebook post included pictures of the building’s exterior where the Pride flags once flew with the confederate flags blurred out.
The act may also hold direct racist overtones as the Pride flag that was stolen was the updated Philadelphia design which added a black and brown stripe to the rainbow in an effort to be more inclusive to LGBTQ people of color.
Campus minister Bret Gresham described Saturday’s events as an “escalation” of the previous acts of vandalism at the Wesley Center. “My No. 1 concern is the students and making sure they feel they have a safe environment to come, to live out their faith and be affirmed in who they are,” Gresham told NBC News.
Blacksburg, VA police launched an investigation into the matter the same day, categorizing it as an act of intimidation. “The Blacksburg Police Department takes all matter involving intimidation seriously,” said Blacksburg PD in a statement. Law enforcement is also investigating the incident as an act of larceny.
In a statement to local news outlet WFXR Thursday, Virginia Tech condemned the act, saying it “does not reflect who we are at Virginia Tech and the Principles of Community that guide us.” “Virginia Tech strongly rejects all forms of prejudice and discrimination and condemns deliberate, hateful actions. We were personally deeply saddened to learn about an act of vandalism against a ministry in our community,” the university’s statement continued.
“Virginia Tech has made tremendous progress over the last several years in building a more thoroughly diverse and inclusive university. Our belief in the inherent dignity and value of every person has never been stronger. Yet incidents like this remind us that the journey to equity and social justice – whether in our community or others across the country – will be long and hard-fought.”
The LGBTQ+ community at the university is responding with strength in the face of the hateful display. “Hate won’t win,” Virginia Tech sophomore Crystal Stewart told USA Today. Stewart, who identifies as queer, added, “They can tear down the Pride flag all they want but we belong. We belong in the church, in the world, everywhere and The Wesley Center supports that. Bringing down the flag won’t bring us down too.”
Wesley Center officials are asking anyone with information about the events on August 7 or anyone involved to contact the Blacksburg Police Department. The university echoed those calls, saying, “We fully support Blacksburg Police in their effort to investigate this matter and encourage anyone in the community with information to come forward.”