SEATTLE — Shortly before midnight one evening in June, a Toyota Sequoia spun its wheels across Kirkland’s Pride flag crosswalk, leaving dark streaks. It had been unveiled less than three weeks prior.
The incident at the entrance of Marina Park, now being investigated by the Kirkland Police Department, was one of the latest in a parade of vandalism and thefts targeting Pride displays across Washington and the nation. In Lewis County, four LGBTQ+ activist sites were vandalized in one night. In Wenatchee, a Pride festival banner was torn. In Tacoma, nine Pride flags were stolen from a single area in one weekend and a church’s rainbow flag was targeted.
The intentional burnouts in Kirkland, which caused permanent damage to the paint, were not the first such incident that affected the crosswalk. Shortly after the crosswalk was unveiled June 2, someone dumped paint on it. That’s what prompted the city to invest in a security camera, allowing them to catch a video of the vehicle with a distinctive roof rack doing burnouts June 20.
The two people seen in the SUV are suspected of reckless driving and malicious mischief, Kirkland police Sgt. Cody Mann said. Because the property belongs to the city, and not a targeted individual, the vandalism cannot be investigated as a hate crime.
“The city of Kirkland does not tolerate hate in any form and is addressing the damage done to the crosswalk,” Kirkland spokesperson David Wolbrecht said. “The colors of the Pride flag represent life and healing, and it is intended to embody the spirit of belonging that Kirkland is known for.”
It’s not the first time a city Pride display was damaged during June. In Everett this year, Pride flags the city placed at Forest Park and Sullivan Park disappeared, prompting police investigations, according to The (Everett) Herald.
The incidents come with a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the country, particularly affecting transgender people and access to gender-affirming care. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, anti-LGBTQ incidents across the nation tripled from 2021 to 2022, and anti-LGBTQ demonstrations more than doubled.
The Lewis County Dignity Guild’s president, Kyle Wheeler, described what he called a “hate crime spree” during which multiple Pride displays were vandalized in the early hours of June 24. The Dignity Guild is a nonprofit that does visibility projects in Lewis County to give safe spaces to marginalized groups, like BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.
A rainbow “Friendship Fence” in Chehalis was splattered with black paint. The guild’s office in downtown Chehalis had six windows broken out. Wheeler’s own property displayed a pole with a large Pride flag that he described as “mangled.” A business in Morton was vandalized for having a rainbow “buddy bench” installed outside.
The incidents were reported to police, but the people responsible have not been found.
“There is a very real possibility that we will never get answers,” Wheeler said.
In Spokane Valley, the Rev. Gen Heywood said the Veradale United Church of Christ’s lawn was vandalized overnight after they hung Pride flags outside the church June 1.
Diesel fuel poured on the lawn spelled out LEV 2013, in reference to the Bible verse Leviticus 20:13. Heywood even worried someone would come back to the lawn and light a flame, asking an usher to keep an eye out during service that Sunday.
In response, Heywood said her 25-person congregation hosted a “Love is Greater than Hate” party the next Sunday. More than 100 people showed up.
Heywood had a message to the people responsible for the vandalism: “It is our Christian belief that they can turn around and change from this. … They don’t have to feel like they’re stuck in hate.”
In Wenatchee, a Pride festival banner in a park was torn in half, said Wenatchee Pride Vice President Kelsey Riggs. A board member repaired the banner and put it in epoxy. Riggs said someone later tried to take a hammer or some other blunt object to the frame, but it didn’t work.
“We all turned around together and decided we were just going to carry on and do what we had set out to do and not let that stop us from enjoying ourselves and celebrating our community,” Riggs said.
According to Seattle police spokesperson Shawn Weismiller, the department received one call in June of a bias incident toward LGBTQ+ people or Pride displays. On June 17, a caller reported two intoxicated males were yelling slurs and breaking Pride flags in West Seattle. Officers responded to the call, he said, but were unable to make a report due to being unable to find victims, property damage or suspects.
Reporting these incidents, Mann said, is vital to deterring future crimes.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Wheeler said. “Our community is done tolerating these types of things and is done being ran out of our own communities.”