An on-campus Methodist ministry at Virginia Tech (VT) called the Wesley Center has had its pride flags stolen before; in fact, it keeps extras handy for that reason. But until recently, vandals had never replaced those rainbow-colored signals of support for the LGBTQ community with something else.
On Saturday, the Wesley Center, a United Methodist ministry group located on VT’s Blacksburg, Va., campus, reported what it describes as a “hate crime”: Someone took down the pride flags and replaced them with Confederate flags, which many associate with racism and discrimination.
Wesley Center: Students Are Frightened
Last weekend, the Wesley Center posted about the incident on Facebook, showing blurred-out photos of the Confederate flags—including one hanging over a Black Lives Matter sign. “This active display of hate is unacceptable and malicious,” the post states. “Wesley will always work to be a safe and affirming place for everyone.”
Bret Gresham, the center’s campus minister, describes the incident as “an escalation” and says LGBTQ students are “hurt, saddened and scared” by it. “My number-one concern is the students and making sure they feel they have a safe environment to come, to live out their faith and be affirmed in who they are,” he adds.
Because “active hate can be traumatic and triggering,” the Wesley Center is encouraging people to “reach out if you need to process or talk about this event.”
The criminal investigations unit of the Blacksburg Police Department is handling the case and asking for tips. This is the third time in two weeks that the center’s pride flags have been stolen.
Community Is Supporting the Wesley Center
Comments on Facebook indicate that the Virginia Tech community is rallying around the campus ministry. “VT and the Wesley Foundation are special, sacred spaces for me and so very many students and alum over the years,” one person writes. “This is a place of grace and acceptance; it hurts deeply to see this kind of hate and desecration!”
“Please know that you have a community encircling you and praying for you,” reads another comment, which concludes with the words of Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
According to news reports, the center is looking into setting up security cameras to deter future theft. Someone asks on Facebook, “Do you have a mechanism for donations to replace the flags and install security cameras?”
Gresham says, “This hate crime goes against all that we believe, and we want our LGBTQ+ community to know that we will always love, support, and embrace you with open arms.” The campus minister also says the vandalism requires a Christian response. “This is a call to continue to love all people and to pray for all people, even the people who have done this,” he says. “And that’s a hard thing, but something we are called to in our faith.”
As numerous denominations and the entire Christian church grapple with how to relate to the LGBTQ community, how can your congregation engage in loving, biblical discussions? For ideas and insights, listen to the ChurchLeaders podcast series “LGBTQ and the Church.”