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Danica Roem defeats Republican challenger in Va.

Kelly McGinn criticized over anti-LGBTQ positions

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Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (Blade photo by Michael Key)
MANASSAS, Va. — Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on Tuesday defeated Republican challenger Kelly McGinn. Roem defeated McGinn by 57-43 percent margin. Roem — a former journalist who has represented the 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2018 — is the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S. Roem is the first openly trans state legislator re-elected. Her support of the expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program and efforts to reduce traffic congestion on Route 28 are among the issues on which she campaigned. Family Foundation Action, an anti-LGBTQ group with which McGinn has strong ties, and the Prince William County Republican Committee are among those that attacked Roem based on her gender identity. “To the people of the 13th District: Thank you so much for the confidence you’ve shown in my team and me by such an overwhelming margin,” tweeted Roem after she won re-election. “I’m grateful to represent you because of who you are — never despite it.” Roem spoke to supporters who were attending an Election Night party at City Tavern in Manassas the Manassas and Manassas Park Cities Democratic Committee organized. “The way that we won this race was by taking care of our constituents for the last two years,” said Roem. “It was by doing what the people asked us to do.” LGBTQ activists across the country applauded Roem’s re-election. “Danica Roem has once again made history, becoming the longest-serving and first openly transgender elected official to be re-elected in our nation’s history,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David in a statement. “Throughout her tenure in the House of Delegates, Roem has remained focused on the needs of her constituents, despite hateful and divisive attacks from anti-LGBTQ groups and her opponents. From expanding Medicaid and providing health care to 400,000 Virginians to improving Route 28, Delegate Roem has been an effective leader in Richmond — and she isn’t finished yet.” LGBTQ Victory Fund President Annise Parker echoed David. “In 2017, Danica wrote the playbook on how transgender candidates can defeat anti-LGBTQ opponents through authenticity and attention to everyday issues — and her reelection victory sets it in stone,” said Parker in a press release. “Voters did not head to the polls to make history, yet they proved trans candidates can win battleground races in battleground states despite transphobic attacks from opponents.” “Danica inspired trans people across the nation to run for office,” she added. “Her reelection proves that political revolution is a lasting transformation — not an aberration.” Daye Pope of the Trans United Fund in a fundraising appeal it sent to supporters described Roem’s re-election as “a victory for trans rights and for working people everywhere.” Roem referred to her constituents when the Los Angeles Blade asked her at City Tavern whether she considers herself a pioneer. “The people who I represent said, ‘Yeah we know she’s trans and she’s a good legislator and she’s great at constituent service and we think that she’s doing a good job,'” she said after she spoke to her supporters. “I hope the message that sends to trans people around the country is that politics is open to you too, and not just politics but whatever you want to pursue in life it’s open to you too and people will actually respect your right to do it,” she added.
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Virginia

Norfolk, Virginia transgender resource center vandalized

“This is a place you can come to get away from that, but to see that sprayed over the window. It’s kind of like you are walking into hell”

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Southeastern Transgender Resource Center (Photo Credit: Google Earth screen capture)

NORFOLK, Va. – The Norfolk Virginia Police Department is investigating the vandalism of a transgender resource center’s building.

Tarena Williams, founder of the Southeastern Transgender Resource Center, told WAVY that someone spraypainted anti-trans graffiti on the windows of her organization’s offices on Sunday or Monday morning. Williams told the Hampton Roads television station that seeing the messages was like “walking into hell.”

“I opened up STRC, even the Lamina House,” she told WAVY. “I opened up that to get away from those types of words. This is a place you can come to get away from that, but to see that sprayed over the window. It’s kind of like you are walking into hell. … To be honest, I was like in shock.”

Authorities are investigating the vandalism.

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Bomb threat interrupts Drag Story Hour at Virginia gay bar

“We had a lot of neighborhood families with kids, babies & one grandmother in there, It was a great turnout, and we had to push them all out”

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From left, Tara Hoot and Freddie Lutz at Freddie's Beach Bar in Arlington, Va. (Photo courtesy of Freddie Lutz)

ARLINGTON, Va. – A Drag Story Hour event hosted by the Arlington, Va. gay bar and restaurant Freddie’s Beach Bar was interrupted by a bomb threat sent by email on Saturday, April 6, requiring parents and their children attending the event to exit the bar into its rear outdoor seating area and parking lot until police and a bomb sniffing dog searched the premises and found no trace of a bomb.

Freddie Lutz, owner of Freddie’s Beach Bar, located in the Crystal City section of South Arlington, said the threatening email from an unidentified sender came during the first time he has hosted a Drag Story Hour event, which includes a drag performer reading children’s stories to children accompanied by their parents.

“We had a lot of neighborhood families with kids and babies and one grandmother in there,” Lutz told the Washington Blade. “It was a great turnout, and we had to push them all out to the back parking lot,” he said. “And they waited, which I thanked them for, until the coast was clear. And then they came back in.”

Lutz said that two protesters opposed to the drag event showed up outside Freddie’s on Saturday, at the time of the Drag Story Hour event. He said drag performer Tara Hoot, who conducted the Drag Story Hour at Freddie’s, told him before the event started that some of her previous Drag Story Hour events have been targeted with bomb threats and protesters.

“So, we were kind of prepared or I guess you could say psychologically prepared for it,” Lutz said. “And sure enough, we got an email threatening the bar and also me personally at my residence, which was a little unsettling,” he said, adding that nothing was found at his nearby South Arlington house.

In response to an inquiry from  the Blade, Arlington police released a brief statement about the incident.

‘At approximately 11:15 a.m. on April 6, police were dispatched to the report of a bomb threat emailed to a business,” the statement says. “Responding officers made contact with the occupants, conducted a sweep of the business and found no evidence of criminal activity located at the restaurant during the sweep,” it says. “The investigation into the threat is ongoing.”

Hoot, who has been conducting Drag Story Hour events in the D.C. area for more than a year, said as many as eight of her past events have been targeted by hostile protesters or bomb threats, although no bombs have ever been found at the locations where the events have taken place.  

Hoot said like protesters targeting her previous events, the two protesters at the Freddie’s event, a man and a woman, cited their religious believes as their reason for opposing the Drag Story Hour event.

“They were spewing religious hate,” Hoot told the Blade. “They were trying to shame parents for bringing their kids.”

Hoot said she includes in the performances songs of interest to children and reads from children’s books such as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book that talks about bravery and other positive themes. “And then I give them bubbles and rainbow ribbons and we all color together,” she said. “It’s just fun and love and joy.”

Started in San Francisco in 2015 by an organization called Drag Story Hour, the story hour events have taken place across the country in libraires, bookstores, and venues such as restaurants and bars.

“In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where everyone can be their authentic selves,” the organization says on its website. 

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Queer Fairfax County students, allies rally against anti-trans lawsuit

The lawsuit by America First Legal, alleges FCPS’s policies violated the rights of a female, “practicing Roman Catholic” student

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LGBTQ students demonstrate at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., in June 2023. A rally against a lawsuit that Stephen Miller's legal group filed took place at the same school on March 21, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Queer students and allies gathered at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church on Thursday to rally against what they perceive as an attack on transgender rights in Fairfax County Public Schools. 

The rally, organized in response to a lawsuit filed by a legal group associated with former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, brought together members of the LGBTQ community and supporters who vehemently opposed the legal challenge.

The lawsuit, brought forth by America First Legal, alleges FCPS’s policies violated the rights of a female, “practicing Roman Catholic” student, by purportedly “allowing transgender teenage boys access to female restrooms” and enforcing what the plaintiffs described as a “radical, government-sponsored gender indoctrination and approved-speech scheme.” 

Miller’s involvement in the lawsuit underscores the divisive nature of the legal challenge, with critics accusing the plaintiffs of targeting vulnerable students and attempting to roll back progress on LGBTQ rights. FCPS’ policies, particularly Regulation 2603, which affirms the rights of trans and nonbinary students, have been lauded by many in the LGBTQ community for providing a safe and inclusive environment for all students.

Reflecting on the importance of FCPS’s policies, Moth DiNizzo, a junior at McLean High School, emphasized how they had been life-saving for many students. 

“The fact that so many of my friends and teachers respect my pronouns and my name is life-saving to me,” DiNizzo stated. “It’s wonderful, and I want everyone to experience that same joy of being known and trusted.”

Laura Troung, a senior at Falls Church High School, echoed DiNizzo’s sentiments, expressing concern over the potential harm caused by the lawsuit. 

“LGBTQ students are already disproportionately facing the youth mental health crisis in addition to bullying and harassment at schools, and this is just adding salt into the wound,” Troung said.

The Pride Liberation Project, comprising more than 500 queer and allied students in Virginia, has been actively involved in advocating for LGBTQ rights at both local and state levels. Despite the legal challenges and opposition faced by the LGBTQ community, organizations like the Pride Liberation Project remain steadfast in their commitment to promoting inclusivity and equality in schools.

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Amber Laenen is a senior at Thomas More Mechelen University in Belgium. She is majoring in journalism and international relations. Amber is interning with the Blade this semester as part of a continued partnership with the Washington Center.

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Virginia Gov. Youngkin signs bill that codifies marriage equality 

The bill passed with support from both parties, at a time when more than 70 percent of Virginians support marriage equality

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaking to residents in Central Virginia, January 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

RICHMOND, Va. – Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday signed a bill that codifies marriage rights for same-sex couples in state law. House Bill 174, which state Del. Rozia Henson (D-Prince William County) introduced, is among the dozens of measures that Youngkin signed.

“Two years into his term, Gov. Youngkin has shown leadership and inclusivity, and has finally listened to his constituents with his signing of HB 174,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in a statement. “The bill passed through the General Assembly with support from both parties, at a time when more than 70 percent of Virginians support marriage equality.”

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the state since 2014.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the marriage amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

Democrats control both houses of the General Assembly.

A Virginia Senate committee in January delayed consideration of state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s resolution that would repeal the marriage amendment.

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Virginia lawmakers give final approval to marriage equality bills

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman

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Virginia House of Delegates in session. (Photo Credit: Commonwealth of Virginia government)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers this week approved two bills that would affirm marriage equality in the state.

The Virginia House of Delegates approved state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 101 by a 58-42 vote margin. The Virginia Senate passed state Del. Rozia Henson (D-Prince William County)’s House Bill 174 by a 22-17 vote margin.

Both bills now go to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

“Virginians across the political spectrum have taken heart to see these bills receive bipartisan support in the General Assembly,” said Ebbin, a gay Democrat, in a press release. “I hope Gov. Youngkin will sign this critical legislation to create state-level protections for all Virginians regardless of who they love.” 

Voters in 2006 approved an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the state since 2015.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the marriage amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

“Senator Ebbin and I introduced this legislation to codify marriage equality in Virginia’s Code so that all marriages are protected under Virginia law beginning July 1, 2024,” said Henson, who is also gay. “Codifying marriage equality will assuage concerns from the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) reversal on abortion rights by the Supreme Court and Justice Thomas’ comments in his concurrence.”

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Virginia House of Delegates passes bill to expand bullying definition

House Bill 536 passed in the Democrat-controlled chamber by a 53-43 vote margin. State Del. Joshua Cole who is bisexual, introduced the bill

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Virginia flag flies over the state Capitol. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia House of Delegates on Friday approved a bill that would add sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

House Bill 536 passed in the Democrat-controlled chamber by a 53-43 vote margin. State Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg), who is bisexual, introduced the measure.

“Above all else, our schools must be places where all students can feel safe, supported and free from bullying, and this new, important bill is a step in the right direction toward a more equitable and harassment-free future for all of Virginia’s students,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in a press release.

GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers in the same press release cited their organization’s research that “has demonstrated that protecting LGBTQI+ children from violence and discrimination results in improved academic performance, a greater sense of belonging in the community and better mental health outcomes.” 

“We applaud the Virginia House of Delegates for passing legislation that includes LGBTQI+ students in the enumerated protections in school anti-bullying policies, while simultaneously rejecting extreme bills that infringe on the rights of transgender students,” said Willingham-Jaggers. “Thank you to the leaders in Virginia and across the country who are increasingly rejecting the politics of division and instead centering safer schools where children can learn and reach their full potential.”

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Pride flags stolen by members of elite U.S. Army ceremonial unit

Specialist Matthew Henshaw, 20, was charged with 3 counts of Unlawful Entry – Bias Motivated & 3 counts of Petit Larceny for the flag thefts

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The two men arrested by Arlington, Va., police on Feb. 2 for allegedly stealing LGBTQ Pride flags from the home of a lesbian couple on five separate days between September 2023 and January 2024 are members of the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment also known as the Old Guard. (Official U.S. Army Photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. – News surfaced this week that two men arrested by Arlington, Va., police on Feb. 2 for allegedly stealing LGBTQ Pride flags from the home of a lesbian couple on five separate days between September 2023 and January 2024 are members of the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment also known as the Old Guard, an elite ceremonial unit that participates in burials at Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the two soldiers, Specialist Matthew Henshaw, 20, has been charged with three counts of Unlawful Entry – Bias Motivated and three counts of Petit Larceny for the flag thefts that Arlington police say occurred Sept. 16, Sept. 30, and Jan. 27. He was released on a secured bond, according to a police statement.

Booking photograph of Matthew Henshaw
via Arlington County, Virginia, Police Department.

The other  soldier, Private First Class Joseph Digregorio, 23, was charged with one count of Petit Larceny for the flag theft that occurred on Jan. 21. Police said he was initially released on a summons, but court records show he failed to show up for a Feb. 7 arraignment hearing at Arlington General District Court and is listed as a fugitive.

Henshaw appeared in court for his arraignment on Feb. 8, where General District Court Judge Cari Michele Steele scheduled his trial date for March 21. 

The judge set the trial date after reading the six charges pending against Henshaw and asking him if he has retained an attorney or needs a court appointed attorney. Henshaw said he has retained an attorney.

He appeared in court dressed in a civilian business suit and tie accompanied by a uniformed male soldier. He declined a request from the Washington Blade for comment after leaving the courtroom following the arraignment.

Arlington police have said in a statement that the case of the Pride flag thefts remains under investigation and anyone with any information relevant to the case is urged to contact them through the police tip line at 703-228-4180.

Police have also pointed out in their statement that the two women, whose Pride flags were stolen repeatedly after they replaced them following each of the thefts, live in a home on the 200 block of South Courthouse Road, which is located less than two blocks from the south entrance of Fort Myer Army Base, where Henshaw and DiGregorio have been stationed. 

During a visit by the Blade to the 200 block of South Courthouse Road on Feb. 6,  at least eight houses on the block had Pride flags either hanging on the sides of the houses or displayed on flag poles.

A resident of one of the houses told D.C.’s NBC 4 News that neighbors of Michelle Logan, 30, and her partner, Jenna Burnett, 27, the couple whose flags were stolen, decided to display their own Pride flags as a showing of solidarity for the two women after learning of the arrests of the two soldiers for the theft of the couple’s flags.

Attempts by the Blade to reach Logan and Burnett for comment have been unsuccessful.

Henshaw did not respond to any of the charges against him during his Feb. 8 arraignment. Under Arlington’s court system, he was not required to enter a plea of innocence or guilt until the time of his trial on March 21, according to a court clerk.

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Court records show that as of Feb. 8, neither Arlington police nor the Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney, which serves as prosecutor in criminal cases, have filed any court documents disclosing the evidence they obtained to support the charges against Henshaw and Digregorio.

Those familiar with the case have speculated that police most likely linked the two soldiers to the Pride flag thefts from video images of the thefts from a security camera that the two women have on their house. The women told the Washington Post and other news media outlets that they posted the video images on social media shortly after the thefts began last September.

“We recognize the significance and impact of their actions and take these charges seriously,” the Army said in a statement released to news media outlets. “The actions of those involved in no way represent the values and character of The Old Guard or our Army,” the statement says. “We will continue to work with the Arlington County Police Department throughout this ongoing investigation.”

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Anti-trans bills die in Virginia General Assembly

Democrats last November regained control of the House of Delegates. They hold a slim majority in the Senate

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Virginia's Capitol in Richmond. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers have killed all of the anti-transgender bills that had been introduced during this year’s legislative session.

The Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday in a 9-6 vote tabled Senate Bill 37, which Equality Virginia said would have forcibly outed transgender students. A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Tuesday killed an identical measure, House Bill 670.

The Senate Education and Health Committee also on Thursday in a 9-6 vote killed Senate Bill 68, which would have banned trans students from school sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. 

The same committee on Thursday tabled an identical measure, Senate Bill 723. House subcommittees on Tuesday killed two bills — House Bill 1120 and House Bill 1229.

Lawmakers killed or tabled an anti-trans “Women’s Bill of Rights” that had been proposed in both General Assembly chambers. 

The Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday by a 9-6 vote margin killed Senate Bill 671, which would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia.

State Sen. Christopher Head (R-Botetourt County) on Thursday withdrew Senate Bill 153, which would have allowed a “medical practitioner, health care institution or health care payer not to participate in or pay for any medical procedure or service that violates such medical practitioner’s, health care institution’s or health care payer’s conscience.” A House subcommittee last month killed an identical bill.

Democrats last November regained control of the House. They hold a slim majority in the Senate.

“Equality Virginia is grateful to the pro-equality majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, which have prioritized the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ — and especially transgender and nonbinary – Virginians,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in a press release.

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Virginia police arrest two men in theft of Pride flags

This remains an active criminal investigation. Anyone with info related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police

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Booking photograph of Matthew Henshaw via Arlington County, Virginia, Police Department.

ARLINGTON, Va. – Police in Arlington announced on Friday evening that they have arrested two men for allegedly stealing LGBTQ Pride flags from the home of a lesbian couple who reported their flags were stolen on five separate days between September 2023 and January 2024.

In a statement, police said they charged Matthew Henshaw, 20, of Fort Myer, Va., with three counts of Unlawful Entry – Bias Motivate and three counts of Petit Larceny for the flag thefts that occurred Sept. 16, Sept. 30 and Jan. 27. The statement says he was released on a secured bond.

The statement says Arlington police also arrested Joseph Digregorio, 23, of Bay Shore, N.Y., on one count of Petit Larceny for the flag theft that occurred on Jan. 21. He was released on a summons, according to the police statement. 

“This remains an active criminal investigation,” the police statement says. “Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected].” 

Police spokesperson Ashley Savage declined to disclose whether Henshaw is a member of the U.S. military, possibly the U.S. Army, in response to a question from the Washington Blade. The police announcement says Henshaw is “of Fort Myer, Va.,” which is a U.S. Army base located a short distance from the house where the lesbian couple lives and where the flags were stolen. The couple lives in the 200 block of South Courthouse Road, according to information released by police.

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Online court records show that Henshaw was scheduled to appear for an arraignment at Arlington General District Court at 2  p.m. on Monday.

“Within hours after it would come down, we would put it back up,” Michaelle Logan, 30, told the Washington Post in describing the repeated thefts of the couple’s Pride flag.

“It was just a constant wave of putting it back up and it being taken down,” she told the police.  

Logan and her partner, Jenna Burnett, 27, also told the Post that their home security camera captured images of a man wearing a cowboy hat pulling down the flag on two of the five times it was removed. 

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Virginia police investigating thefts of lesbian couple’s Pride flags

The two women said they began raising money from neighbors and friends on social media in response to the theft of their Pride flags

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Photo Credit: The Arlington County, Virginia, Police Department

PENROSE, Va. – Police in Arlington County are investigating the repeated theft of an LGBTQ Pride flag at the home of a lesbian couple that took place on at least four different days between Sept. 16, 2023, and Jan. 21, 2024, according to a police statement released to the Washington Blade.

The statement says the home where the thefts took place is located on the 200 block of South Courthouse Road, which is near the sprawling Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Police have listed the thefts as larcenies that remain under investigation.

“Within hours after it would come down, we would put it back up,” Michelle Logan, 30, told the Washington Post, which published a story on the thefts on Jan. 29. “It was just a constant wave of putting it back up and it being taken down,” Logan told the Post. 

Logan and her partner, Jenna Burnett, 27, also told the Post that their home security camera captured images of a man wearing a cowboy hat pulling down the flag on two of the four times the flag was removed.

The police statement obtained by the Blade says the reporting party told police a male suspect and two male witnesses approached the house on Sept. 16, with one of the suspects removing the Pride flag before fleeing the scene on foot. The statement says the person removing the flag is described as a white male.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach the couple for comment.

The two women told the Post they believe the same male suspect wearing a cowboy hat removed the flag the second time on Sept. 30 based on images from their security camera. The police statement says police received reports that the flag was stolen at the same location again on Dec. 16 and at least one more time on Jan. 21, but no description of a suspect was given for those two instances.

The Post reports that the women said their video camera captured the image of a man without a cowboy hat removing the flag and the flagpole from their porch and walking away during the most recent incident.

The two women told the Post they began raising money from neighbors and friends on social media in response to the theft of their Pride flags and have been donating the money to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit group that provides support and a crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth. They said at least one neighbor sent them two Pride flags in case the thefts continue.  

“The investigation into these incidents is ongoing,” the police statement says. “Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington Police Department’s tip line at 703-228-4179 or [email protected],” the statement says. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477),” it says.

In a separate case, police in Montgomery County, Md., reported an unidentified suspect was captured on a video security camera on Nov. 7, 2023, tearing up and pulling down part of a two-story tall LGBTQ Pride banner from the outside wall of Bethesda United Methodist Church in Bethesda, Md. That case also remains under investigation according to police.

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