Theft of Pride flag from Elmira home called a hate crime

Last updated on Jun 13, 24

Posted on Jun 13, 24

3 min read

An Elmira man has told of his shock after seeing a group of teenagers steal a Pride flag flying outside his house and damage property in what police say is another “hate-motivated” crime.

Arthur Street resident Tyson Aberle, 36, said the banner was snatched while he was inside his home with his wife Emily and their two children shortly after midnight on Saturday morning.

He went out to investigate the sounds of “stomping” and “giggling,” and said he saw up to seven boys and girls, who he estimated were between 16 and 17 years of age, run off with his rainbow flag, which represents LGBTQ pride.

“I was just hanging out and dozing off to TV when I heard noises on my porch,” Aberle said.

“I have these lanterns that are hanging on a line along with the flag and they yanked it down, so I heard some of the lanterns smash and I went outside.

“I then saw these teenagers run off with the flag and so I chased after them. I was only wearing parachute pants and a T-shirt. No shoes.”

He eventually found the recently purchased flag around 100 metres away on South Street after finding a girl “hiding behind a truck.”

“I just told her to ‘run.’ But that’s where they had dropped it,” said Aberle, adding that he had put the banner up only days earlier to support the LGBTQ community during the annual Pride Month, which takes place in June.

The incident happened just nine days after Waterloo Regional Police Service said they were investigating “hate-motivated” graffiti at Elmira’s skatepark.

The Observer reported on June 6 how racist vandals struck three times in two weeks, each time forcing Woolwich Township staff to paint over where they had written the N-word.

Police did not say whether they thought the two crimes could be connected.

Aberle, who works for Woolwich Community Services, said he was saddened and angered by both incidents.

“I’m disappointed that the hate is still there. It’s still being taught, especially when you see youth. That’s just strange to me in this day and age,” he added.

In the few days the flag was up before being snatched, he claims a few EDSS students had yelled abuse as they passed his house, which is near the school.

“Every day I get high school kids walking by and you hear all sorts of things,” he said.

“You get the compliments and then you get the like, ‘Oh, here’s the gay house,’ you see it all. You get people yelling at you through the car window sometimes, just on the main drag.”

Aberle said he refused to be cowed by the incident and put the Pride flag straight back up.

He said he felt like it was his duty to stand up for the LGBTQ community.

 “It feels like we’re going backwards again,” he added.

Aberle said he couldn’t be sure what the thieves’ motivation had been, noting that “teenagers do stupid things.”

“It could be an act of rebellion by going against what society wants or the new norms of society,” he added.

“But then I also think the parents play a role too. We’re not born to hate, we’re taught this stuff. They’ve got to be learning it from somewhere.”

A neighbour also said he was saddened by the incident.

“It’s very concerning I think for everyone all the apparent intolerance,” said the man, who did not want to be named.

“As a mixed-race family, we have been very concerned with a lot of what we have been hearing coming out of the high school and community.”

Police said last year there had been 369 hate-motivated crimes reported to officers in the region.

Regarding Saturday’s theft and damage, a spokesman said: “Police are treating this as a hate-motivated incident.”

Anyone with information is asked to call police at 519-570-9777, extension 6399. To provide anonymous information, please call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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