Vandals set pride flag on fire outside California church

Rev. Matthew Wooward. Sacramento Bee Screenshot

A Sacramento, California church that displayed the pride flag in honor of pride month has suffered an act of arson. Homophobic vandals set the flag on fire outside the house of worship.

Rev. Matthew Woodward of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral said the attack happened on June 4, according to The Sacramento Bee. Woodward, who identifies as gay himself, had hung the flag outside the cathedral just as pride kicked off across the city. When he arrived at the church that morning, he discovered the charred remains of the flag.

“It made me sad this morning to see that somebody wanted to take down what we think was a sign of love and burn it, but love isn’t that easily defeated,” Woodward said. “So – just gotta buy a new flag.”

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Episcopal Bishop Megan Traquair condemned the attack as an act of hate. “While the monetary value of the flag is minimal, the symbolism of the act is immense,” she wrote in a statement. “The Pride flag is a symbol of love, of struggle, of sacrifice, by generations of our brothers and sisters. I realize that not all are accepting of our LGBTQ neighbors, but we should all be united in condemning this act. Christ calls us to show love and respect to our neighbors.”

Sacramento police have opened an investigation into the attack. Rev. Woodward, meanwhile, has refused to let the attack stymie the church’s planned celebrations of queer pride. The minister donned a rainbow flag cape on Saturday (June 5) in a special pride parade of sorts. The church hosted an event called the Ru Paws Drag Race dog parade as a way of allowing congregants to celebrate pride with their pooches.

“It felt nice to be among friendly, affirming people this morning,” Woodward told The Sacramento Bee. “We’re trying to have a conversation with each other in public around our lives as gay people and say, ‘God created everybody. God loves everybody. God created me. God loves me.’ There are people that find that difficult to hear.”

Despite the religious right’s long history of persecuting LGBTQ people, the Episcopal Church has a long history of welcoming queer people and supporting their rights. The church first began opening its doors to the LGBTQ crowd following a denominational conference in 1976. The church founded its own AIDS charity in 1988 and in 1994 began ordaining openly gay clergy. Since 2015, the Episcopal Church has also performed same-sex marriage rites.