A place in La Crosse designed to serve as a safe space for everyone has become the target of theft.
The front of The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection looks different. The rainbow flags once welcoming the community at the door are now gone.
"Friday we came into work, and our flags had been torn down off of the building and stolen," said Alesha Schandelmeier, Executive Director of The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection.
This is the third incident involving the flags in just one year, and members of the LGBTQ community say it has escalated from vandalism.
"Previously, we had come out, and they were pulled down," said Deb Bassett, Administrative Assistant at The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection in the weekly "Queercast Update" on the organization’s Facebook page. "One was laying on the sidewalk."
The people responsible not only took the flags out of their holders but ripped one of the holders off of the building. For this reason, Captain Jason Melby with the La Crosse Police Department classifies this incident as a theft.
"You start trying to figure out a couple of things, specifically," said Melby. "Is it a random act of vandalism or is it specifically targeted for a reason?"
Those at The Center cannot help but think that the crimes are targeted.
"It’s hard for us to understand the purpose of it. It’s hard for us to understand the hate behind tearing down our flags," said Bassett. "What we do here is we love. We accept. We’re kind. We’re supportive."
That spirit continues motivating the group to come back stronger despite what they call a hiccup.
"Two flags came down, and we’re putting four up," said Schandelmeier. "Obviously, it’s concerning for our organization, but it’s more concerning for the whole community at large in the La Crosse area. We’ve really had some amazing people pull together and help start raising funds for new flags."
"We want people to know that we are here to stay. It’s hurtful to us when it happens," said Bassett. "It’s upsetting to us when it happens, but we know what we stand for. We know that we love our community."
The non-profit organization plans to continue promoting acceptance for not only the LGBTQ community but their allies in the Greater La Crosse region.
The investigation continues into who committed the crime. Melby encourages anyone with information to reach out to the La Crosse Police Department through Crime Stoppers app, social media or phone at 608.784.8477 or 1.800.947.3577.
The Center has increased security. A generous benefactor of the organization has volunteered to pay the monthly fee for a security camera to film the flags at night.