Pride flag set on fire in ‘disgusting act of hate’ against small-town LGBT+ safe space

Pride flag

Police are investigating the “hateful” burning of a Pride flag outside a coffee shop that has shaken a small community.

The remains of the flag were left outside the front door of Molten Java cafe in Bethel, Connecticut on Saturday night (3 April). The news shocked and appalled locals, who say it doesn’t represent the welcoming town they live in.

“It’s a disgusting act of hate. It’s an attack on our whole community,” first selectman Matt Knickerbocker told The News-Times.

“It had a purpose to it, to intimidate a person who is displaying their respect for all people’s rights. It’s a very poor reflection on the people who did this.”

The Bethel CT Pride organisation issued a statement describing the vandalism as a “heinous, hateful act”.

Molten Java Cafe’s flag was a “beacon of inclusivity and community that flew outside of the space,” they said, making it a safe haven to the LGBT+ community before the local Pride group was formed.

Out state representative Raghib Allie-Brennan described the incident as a hate crime and said it was “heartbreaking” to hear of such things happening in Bethel.

“An act against one of us is an act against all of us,” he said, noting that “the actions of one or a few individuals doesn’t represent the views of our diverse town”.

“Being gay in a small town is not easy and I know that personally. The Pride flag is a meaningful symbol that defines a community of love and acceptance,” he added.

Video surveillance inside the cafe shows two people removing the Pride flag from the business and leaving the area. One of the individuals is later seen returning the damaged flag and leaving it outside the door, police say.

When the burned remnants were discovered the next morning by an employee, cafe owner Wendy Cahill posted an open letter to her community on Facebook.

“I love this town. I hesitated [sharing this] thinking that this incident would make anyone question the overwhelming support, kindness and sense of community we have. It’s a town full of amazing individuals and I feel very lucky to live and work here,” she said.

“So, no, this incident doesn’t represent where we live, but it’s important to know that it happens here… even here.”

Cahill told The News-Times she’s usually not sensitive to homophobic attacks, but this instance felt “way more personal”.

“If I had a chance to talk to them, I would ask what was the motivation and feeling behind it. Obviously hatred and homophobia, but I don’t know why they would take the time to express it that way,” she said. “It’s hard to say.”

Anyone with information about the crime is urged to contact the Bethel Police Department at 203-744-7900.