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Police probe burning of Boston-area church's transgender flag as a hate crime

The church’s pastor, who is openly queer, said the community reacted with “shock” and “dismay.”
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After a transgender Pride flag outside a Massachusetts church was burned late last month, police confirmed Tuesday that they are investigating the incident as a hate crime. 

The Rev. Kent French, the senior pastor at United Parish of Brookline in metropolitan Boston, said a staff member at the church discovered the burned flag, which had been up for more than a year, on the building’s lawn on the morning of Aug. 26. 

Police believe the incident occurred sometime from 10 p.m. on Aug. 25 to 9 a.m. the next day, a police department spokesperson said, although it wasn’t first reported to the Brookline Police Department until last Thursday. 

French, who describes himself as openly queer, said his church strives to be inclusive of all people, especially LGBTQ people who have ever felt “betrayed” by their religious communities. He said trans people are an integral part of his church’s faith community, which includes more than 250 members, whose initial reactions to the incident were “shock” and “dismay.” 

“We’ve been inclined to think this was a one-off, but it makes us vigilant and wary,” he said.

French said that although the church has security cameras, it’s still not clear whether the cameras caught any video of the incident. 

A police spokesperson provided no further information about the case. 

A local LGBTQ advocate told NBC Boston that the burning of the flag is just the latest anti-LGBTQ incident in the area. Janson Wu, the executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, pointed to a bomb threat late last month at Boston Children’s Hospital, which right-wing extremists have targeted recently for providing gender-affirming care to trans youths. And in July, an affordable housing project for LGBTQ seniors in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood was vandalized with homophobic threats. 

“This is a part of a growing trend of anti-LGBTQ extremism that we’ve seen across the country as well as in Massachusetts,” Wu said. 

Brookline police joined a wave of other departments across the country last year by designating an LGBTQ liaison. Kristin Healy, whose job in part includes monitoring the police department’s response to LGBTQ-related crimes, has been in contact with United Parish about the incident, French said.  

“I feel very grateful to be part of a community that takes this seriously,” he said.

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