In early December, Bill and Michele Fitzpatric discovered the rainbow colored pride flag they had flown for many months had been taken from their porch, burned and then left near the street.
The act of vandalism was surprising, given their Worthington Avenue neighborhood is normally quiet and peaceful. But more concerning was the thought that someone may have destroyed the flag, not as a random incident of mischief, but as a deliberate act of hate and intolerance.
“It was very upsetting,” says Michele. “As upsetting as it was, though, it was hard to imagine how I would have felt if I was a member of the LGBTQ community or one of my family was. Then it would have been a personal attack against us.”
The Fitzpatrics say they have long been supporters of LGBTQ rights and regularly attend events like the pride parade in downtown Cincinnati. They believe in supporting all those who face persecution because of their gender identity, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation.
“Those who are part of marginalized communities face this type of intolerance all the time,” says Michele. “That’s why we feel it’s so important to support them.”
Community Rallies to Their Side
As word spread through social media about the incident, the Fitzpatrics soon got another surprise, however. This time the message was one of love and hope as many Wyoming residents pledged support and a show of force by displaying their own pride flags.
“There really has been an outpouring of support. Our neighbors, and many people we don’t even know have contacted us to tell us how they want to help,” says Michele.
Immediately after the incident, Police Chief and Acting City Manager Rusty Herzog said the police department would investigate the incident as a hate crime to ensure it would receive full attention. Mayor Thaddeus Hoffmeister stopped by with a new pride flag for the family and a pledge of support from the City of Wyoming to stand against intolerance in all forms.
Neighbors and friends responded quickly to the incident.
Maureen Geiger, who lives across the street from the Fitzpatrics and is a good friend of the family, says after she learned about the flag’s treatment, it left her feeling fearful at first. But she knew the best way to counter a hateful act is with a strong showing of love.
“As soon as I saw what happened, I rushed to wave our pride flag out in solidarity with our neighbors,” says Geiger. “I also added a ‘Love is the Answer’ sign behind where they left my neighbor’s flag to burn in our yard, because, as saccharine as it sounds, it really is the answer.”
Christopher Reintz, a local resident and member of the LGBTQ community as well as a member of the City’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, says he has never met the Ftizpatrics, but was moved to write a letter to the family after learning of the incident on social media. He wanted to thank them for their willingness to visibly support people like him.
“When I see people like the Fitzpatrics stand up for LGBTQ people, it makes me feel this community would stand up for me,” says Reintz. “Isn’t that what living in a small town is supposed to be about – taking care of each other and supporting your community? Maybe now the next generation will be able to feel comfortable being who they are in Wyoming. That is such a wonderful thing.”
Mayor Responds to Express City’s Support
Hoffmeister says he personally reached out to the Fitzpatrics to show the City stands behind their message of tolerance and condemns acts of hate.
“If (this incident) was truly targeted against them because of what the flag stands for then that is unacceptable,” says Hoffmeister. “Wyoming supports them and their right to display a flag that conveys their beliefs.”
Ironically, Hoffmeister says that although it appears the vandals intended to intimidate and squash public displays of support for the LGBTQ community, their actions have had the opposite effect. “If there’s one positive that’s come out of all of this, it’s that the perpetrators actually raised awareness of LGBTQ rights and gender issues in the broader community.”