The Equality House in Topeka, Kansas, which stands directly across the street from the notoriously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, has been a symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement since it was first painted Pride flag colors in March of 2013. This week, however, the colorful symbol of equality was subjected to hate when spray-painted slurs and bullet holes were found on the home's exterior.
Aaron Jackson, president of Planting Peace and founder of the Equality House, was inside at the time the house was vandalized on Sunday with spray-paint. He was awoken at around 1:12 a.m. when he heard loud noises coming from outside. He called the police, and once they had arrived, they found the anti-gay slurs on the house. A few days later, seven bullet holes were found on the same side of the home.
This, unfortunately, is just the latest in a recent string of vandalism against Equality House.
"The Equality House has been a target for acts of hate and intolerance that reflect the same experiences our LGBT family face every day," Jackson said. "Planting Peace frequently receives hate mail and even death threats, but over the past three months we have seen an increase in physical acts of vandalism and violence. While it may seem shocking to some, it's a heartbreaking reality."
Jackson also told NBC OUT someone claiming to be a member of the KKK recently visited the house and warned of an "open season" on LGBTQ people. Urine and fecal matter were also recently found in Equality House's free library.
"In three years of existence, this is the most activity we've seen, beyond the regular incidents of people driving by and yelling anti-LGBT slurs," Jackson said.
The LGBTQ community is subjected to hate crimes at a higher rate than any other minority group, according to the FBI. And while this year's statistics are not yet available, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told NBC OUT his organization has noticed an anecdotal increase of "hate crimes of many kinds" this past year.
"Ultimately, this is the result of vicious propaganda that is put out every day. When you demonize a population day after day, it ultimately translates in hate violence. When you have hate groups and organizations claiming that gay men are perverts and pedophiles, it's no surprise when they get attacked with baseball bats," he said.
When asked what can be done to curb discrimination and hate violence, Potok said he believes that public figures and organizations using their voices to advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ community are instrumental in the fight for tolerance and acceptance. Media representation, he added, can also have a positive effect.
"The reality is that a lot of the advances that have been made have to do with other people knowing LGBT people in their lives or on TV," Potok said. "More and more Americans know someone closely who is LGBT, whether it's a sibling, parent, friend or co-worker. As people come out of the closet more and more, there has been more acceptance."
Planting Peace has regularly used unconventional methods in order to spread awareness and acceptance. After painting the Equality House rainbow colors, they painted the house next door the colors of the transgender flag, and in August they launched the first Pride flag into space.