Nancy Ewert/contributed photos

Pride flags stolen from residences around Lopez Island

Only a broken wooden pole remained where a rainbow flag once blew in the wind — and its disappearance wasn’t the only one of its kind. Rainbow flags, representing unity within the LGTBTQ+ community and its allies, were stolen from the yards of several Lopezians.

It all began when Jeanna Carter drove down her driveway on a Monday morning to find the Pride flags they had placed at the end of their driveway gone. Her son, Terrell, had recently come out as gay and his family hoped to support their son by publically displaying the rainbow flags.

“On Sunday afternoon our family had a private ceremony honoring and celebrating our son, brother, and friend to many on our dear ‘friendly’ island, for deciding to come out to his island home as a gay man,” Jeanna Carter said. “The Pride and Progress flags were raised in support and respect for him, and for others on this planet who identify as LGBTQ. The flags were beautiful flying on their poles near our cherry tree which was laden in blossoms.”

What remained between where the two colorful flags once flew was a Hostess wrapper.

A symbol of gay pride and the LGBTQ+ community at large, the rainbow flag debuted in 1978. The demand for the flag increased with the assassination of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk on Nov. 27, 1978. The Hostess wrapper left in the Carters’ driveway evoked a memory of the “Twinkie Defense,” a term coined by the media covering the trial of Milk’s murderer Dan White. White’s defense team claimed consuming Twinkies helped induce depression in White which lead to his murdering Milk.

“My heart was heavy with sadness for the unsafe sign this message carried; not only to my family but to our island community,” Jeanna Carter said. “This behavior is malicious, an invasion of privacy and a hate crime. I reported it immediately to the Sheriff’s department.”

Fellow Lopezian Nancy Ewert sprung into action and messaged island friends to know she had purchased a number of Pride flags and asked if they would be willing to fly them.

“I gave away five in all and then others ordered their own,” Ewert said.

Another Lopezian to join the Carters and Ewert in flying a Pride flag was Steve Horn.

“On hearing this, I felt that this young man had been done wrong and I wanted to show support and solidarity with him and his courage,” Horn said.

Horn placed a Pride flag in a very obvious location at his house on Center Road, a half-mile south of Hummel Lake.

The flag Ewert flew was up for two weeks until on May 10 it was ripped off her mailbox leaving only a wooden stake that once held the symbolic flag. When she called to report the incident, she learned two other Pride flags had been stolen as well, including Horn’s.

“Not to be deterred I got another flag and put it up in a more secure fashion,” Ewert said.

“This was very painful and reinforced my resolve to get another flag put up,” Horn said.

Horn now has a new Pride flag flying at his home as well.

“I have a neurodegenerative condition that prevents me from having the stamina or capability to do a project like this, but I feel strongly that the pride flag is a positive message affirming individual freedom, which I and this country hold dear,” Horn said. “I feel it is important to stand in solidarity at this time. Whoever did this, I hope will recognize how much these acts hurt all of us. We can be a safe and loving community.”

Ewert said at first she was angry and felt violated.

“I understand that this is an act of fear but I also felt personally violated,” she said. “It just feels so unsettling that someone acts on their own hatred and prejudice in such a tangible hateful manner. It was not an easy task to put up this flag and it just felt like such an insult to rip it away.”

Ron Hall, owner of Paper, Scissors on the Rock and former publisher and editor of the Islands’ Weekly, did not have a flag stolen from him, but as a member of the islands’ LGBTQ+ community, felt hurt by the actions of the person or persons who stole the flag. His husband, Robert Herrmann, passed away in October 2019.

“Hearing about the removal of Terrell’s flag made me very upset. The young man, whom I have known for most of his life, was hurting nobody by erecting the flag,” Hall said. “It seemed so pointless and mean to do this to him. And then when other flags were stolen, I got very mad.”

Hall explained that felt the action was intimidation, a way of the perpetrator telling LGBTQ+ community members they do not belong. He said he takes it as an assault on the community, not just those who had flags stolen.

“I have been out since the 1970s. I have marched in Pride Parades, marched on Washington, started a Men’s Chorus, raised money for AIDS, and done many other things to support the LGBTQ+ community throughout the years,” Hall said. “Lopez has always been a supportive and accepting community and this action stings.”

Hall has lived on the island and been an active member of the Lopez community for more than 30 years. He explained that many people in the LGBTQ community have been equally active in the Lopez community, starting businesses, nonprofits, raising money and supporting their neighbors.

“This theft is a slap in the face to all we have done,” Hall said. “I know that some people think, ‘It is just a couple of flags. Get over it,’ but the bullies of the world are emboldened to take more drastic actions when there is no one calling them out on their actions. We have to nip this in the bud quickly, or it will escalate and then going back to ‘normal’ will be very difficult.”

Hall has established a $500 reward for anyone who successfully helps to find the perpetrators. He expects others will add to that reward.

“I have lived through a lot of changes and advancements for my community. From a time when being out could land you in jail, get you fired, dishonorably discharged from the military, denied housing, jobs, access to your kids, and access to decent medical care,” Hall said. “You could be an easy target for physical violence. Afraid for your life walking down a street. Destruction and vandalism of your personal property. Our love was not honored nor legal.”

Hall and Herrmann were one of the first couples to apply for marriage certificates in San Juan County when the ban on gay marriage was overturned by the state in 2012.

“We have many rights protected in many parts of this country,” Hall said. “We have come a long way and my hope is that the young people of this community and country can see that they can count on communities to stand up for them against bullies and tyrants.”