By Gwen Aviles

What started out as an alarming situation for a lesbian couple who recently moved to the Chicago suburbs turned into a heartwarming example of neighborhood support fit for a holiday movie.

Casey Handal and Zadette Rosado moved to Barrington, Illinois, with their two daughters in May. Earlier this month, they were hosting a Christmas party at their home and decorating gingerbread houses when Handal looked out their window and noticed the family’s rainbow flag was missing. The colorful pride flag that once flew high in their backyard had been replaced with an American flag.

Rosado said the discovery was alarming for her family — not so much because their flag was stolen, but because they believed its replacement was intended as a message.

“The nerve of someone to trespass on someone’s property and take something and replace it with something that makes a statement,” Rosado told NBC Nightly News. “It’s not like you’re replacing it with Easter bunnies.”

Rosado stressed that she and her family are “proud Americans” who “have no issues” with the American flag, but she said she believes whoever stole their flag — a well-known symbol of LGBTQ equality — “thought maybe by us having the pride flag was something that was un-American.”

“Especially during these turbulent time we’re having,” she added, “the statement they were making is what made it scary.”

Once their holiday party ended, Handal posted about the incident to a local neighborhood site, asking anyone with any information to come forward. But Handal and Rosado did not want to press charges, even though the theft made them question the family’s safety.

“To be honest, I’d just love to talk to them,” Handal said. “I think there’s a lot more similarities between you — two humans — than there are differences, and I think it’s really hard to hate up close.”

The flag thief did not come forward, but the couple’s neighbors stepped up in an unexpected way.

“Kim [Filian] from down the street suggested that she would fly a [rainbow] flag in solidarity in her yard,” Handal said. “She had bought dozens more, and if anybody else wanted one, she’d be happy to deliver one.”

The couple wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Before they could replace their own flag, dozens of rainbow flags appeared on top of their neighbors’ mailboxes, planters and lawns — a display of solidarity with the couple, who plans to get married next week.

“When the neighborhood came together and rallied behind us and were so supportive, I think that is what … diffused any type of fire inside of me to then be on alert,” Rosado said.

And for Rosado and Handal’s daughters, the theft presented a holiday lesson better than any Christmas ghosts in a Dickens’ novel could.

“Our kids’ initial reaction was that someone took the flag because they liked it so much. That was a difficult conversation to have with them,” Handal said. “But I think when the neighborhood came together … and the kids started seeing the flags everywhere … it was a great way to teach them that, ‘Yeah, there are bad people in the world, and you always gotta watch out and be careful, but the good outweighs the bad.’”

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