Police said they are investigating the recent burning of a transgender pride flag at a Brookline church as a hate crime.
The flag burning took place at United Parish in Brookline on Harvard Street and is believed to have occurred between 10 p.m. on Aug. 25 and 9 a.m. the following morning, Lieutenant Derek Hayes, a police spokesman, said in a statement Monday.
The incident was first reported to police Thursday, Hayes said.
The destruction of the flag is under investigation by Brookline police detectives as a hate crime, according to the statement. No arrests have been made.
Church officials decried the burning of the flag on its lawn and affirmed its support for transgender people in a statement Thursday.
“The hate and violence shown on our lawn has no place in the kind of world that Jesus imagined and God created,” the church said in a statement. “No act of vandalism will deter us from expressing Christ’s love as fully as possible in order to overcome this kind of hatred.”
Senior Pastor Kent French, who is the church’s fourth openly queer pastor, said he was disappointed to see this happen, but it opens up a conversation. The flag, he said, was found by the parish administrator on the front lawn.
“The very next Sunday after this happened, we prayed for whoever did this in church and pray that we offer forgiveness and reconciliation and also that rather than be so rude and discourteous and uncivil on our very welcoming front lawn, we’d prefer to be in conversation with you about what we believe, what you believe, and how we believe that represents the gospel of Jesus Christ,” French said in a phone interview Monday.
The response from parishioners, he said, has been shock and dismay. The burning, he said, helps reiterate the church’s core message of radical inclusion, “which is what we believe Jesus preached, and we believe that everyone is made in the image of God.
He said the church has transgender people among its parishioners, and it is welcoming to all.
“And it’s not just that we are welcoming trans people,” he said. “We are a fully diverse congregation of all generations and backgrounds and even theologies.”
This act of “aggressive vandalism,” French said, has never happened before at the church to his knowledge.
The church intends to get another, more visible transgender pride flag but will display it in a less reachable spot, as they did with a Black Lives Matter banner on the steeple, he said.
As a queer person who has dealt with bullies since being on the playground, French said he believes a lot of hate stems from insecurity.
“I feel like my job ... is to overcome hate with love,” said French, who noted he’s been a Christian his entire life. “And, you know, if someone does something like this anonymously, we don’t have an opportunity to do that directly. Our prayer was to pray in general for that and the way we see it all over the world, but certainly we would invite dialogue with someone who has those feelings.”
The church encouraged anyone who has noticed suspicious activity in the neighborhood to contact Brookline Police Officer and LGBTQ+ liaison Kristin Healy at firstname.lastname@example.org.