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Pride flag burning shakes family’s confidence in Fort Macleod

pride flag vandalized
Fort Macleod RCMP are investigating an incident last week in which someone tore down, shredded and burned a Pride flag at a private residence.

A Fort Macleod family was targetted by a hate crime last week when someone set fire to a Pride flag outside their home.

It was the second time in just over two years someone has vandalized a Pride flag flown by Wanita and Andrew Walmsley.

“It makes it a hard place for us to live,” Wanita Walmsley said in an interview. “We feel like we’ve been good to our community and it doesn’t feel like we’re getting that vibe in return.”

Josh O’Sullivan, a former Fort Macleod resident now living in New York, said burning the Pride flag is a hate crime.

“This is absolutely a hate crime and it should be treated as such,” said O’Sullivan, who is manager of strategic initiatives at CAI Global, a New York non-profit dedicated to improving the health care and social services delivered to vulnerable populations world-wide through education and research.

At present, O’Sullivan  a lead trainer appointed by the Centre for Disease Control for a national COVID-19 contract tracing and investigation program. O’Sullivan and his team train contact tracers and investigators across the country.

“The fact that this happened in Fort Macleod is disappointing and disheartening, but unfortunately not surprising,” O’Sullivan said. “Hate crimes are on the rise and that is in large part due to the emboldening hate speech and fear-mongering spewed by the U.S. president and echoed by some Alberta cabinet ministers and their supporters..”

“This is not about a flag, this is about the fact people are still so anti-LGBTQ+ that they will trespass, tear down, shred, and burn an innocent symbol of support and solidarity.”

Andrew and Wanita Walmsley have lived in Fort Macleod for more than three decades. They are both teachers, and Andrew is a long-time rugby and basketball coach.

“I know there are good people here too, people who fight against this kind of stuff,” Wanita said. “Andrew loves this community. I love it too.”

The attack happened between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Aug. 25.

“We were actually home, and we had our door open,” Wanita Wamsley said in an interview.

About 9 p.m. something scared their pet cats, and the Walmsleys heard voices outside.

“We actually heard voices,” Walmsley said. “The voices were so loud we thought someone was coming to knock on our door or whatever. We didn’t really think much of it at the time.”

They looked outside to see what scared the cats but didn’t notice anything.

When Andrew Walmsley went outside about 10:30 p.m. he found the Pride flag had been torn down, shredded and set on fire.

“It was very disturbing to know that we were right in our house and somebody took a lighter or whatever that close to our house and started a fire,” Wanita Walmsley said. “You have to come pretty deep on our property.”

The Pride flag hangs beside the Walmsleys’ garage, close to the entryway of their home.

The Walmsleys reported the crime to the RCMP who canvassed the neighbourhood looking for surveillance video, without success.

The Walmsleys, will rectify that situation by installing their own security cameras.

Wanita Walmsley said nothing happened in weeks leading up to Aug. 25 to foreshadow the attack.

“It’s always more disturbing knowing it’s the second time and when there is fire involved,” she said. “It was slashed and torn down and burned. Fortunately it didn’t burn very well, thank goodness, so it didn’t catch our house on fire.”

In June 2018 the Walmsleys’ Pride flag was torn down. A flag at a Main Street business was also torn down.

The Walmsleys are distressed that someone would come into the haven that is their home and commit such an act.

“It is certainly the most violated I’ve ever felt,” Wanita said. “The last time we were mad. This one made us mad and sad all over again, but this one made us scared too.”

The Pride flag had been in place since the beginning of June and was to come down at the beginning of September as the season of Pride activities came to a close.

The Walmsleys hung a new Pride flag from the supply they have on hand.

That flag was torn down on Saturday night, so another will be put up in its place.

“We want people in this town who are from the LGBTQ community to know they have support in this town,” Wanita Walmsley said. “It’s worth it to us to keep the flag up.”

O’Sullivan said the LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to hate but is resilient and will continue to exist whether symbols are destroyed or not.

“In order to dismantle hate, we need allies, support, and education,” O’Sullivan said. “In response to this hate crime, I urge everyone in Fort Macleod to fly rainbow flags, to stand up for LGBTQ+ people, and to please educate and encourage those around you to become allies.”

“Lives are at stake, and next time, rather than a flag, it could be someone you love.”

Anyone with information about this crime should contact Fort Macleod RCMP at 403-553-7200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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