BOISE – On Oct. 5, John Michael Schert finally had enough.
On two other occasions, someone had defaced or targeted the progress pride flag outside the Boise home he shares with his husband.
This time, they discovered someone set fire to it – after obscuring the doorbell security camera at the house.
Schert and his husband let the other incidents go. But last week, they called the Boise Police Department.
“We reported this incident because burning feels like so much of an escalation,” Schert told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview.
“It’s quite dangerous and our house could have caught on fire. This feels much more hateful – someone knowing how to cover your camera and then defacing your flag on your property. That feels aggressive and it feels scary because they knew what they were doing.”
Spokesperson Haley Williams said police believe someone burned the flag at around 8:20 p.m. on Oct. 4.
Police are investigating the report as a suspected bias incident, with potential malicious harassment or malicious injury to property charges, she said.
Schert said police sent an LGBTQ liaison officer within an hour of his filing the report. Police interviewed North End neighbors of the couple and collected evidence, too.
Schert posted a video to Instagram of his husband, Brett Perry, capturing the remnants of the burned flag.
“This is our progress flag,” Perry said in the video. “This is our third time getting targeted. Someone burned it, it looks like in the middle of the night. There’s melted pieces on the floor, and unfortunately the camera didn’t catch it.”
North End residents have reported damaged or stolen pride flags to police seven times this year, according to the Boise Police Department.
The progress flag differs from a traditional rainbow pride flag because it adds pink, light blue and white stripes from the transgender pride flag, and also includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalized LGBTQ communities of color.
The couple first put out a progress flag in August 2020. Someone stole it in January , they said.
Schert said he immediately ordered another flag, and installed a doorbell camera for more security.
During a trip to McCall, Idaho, in August, the couple noticed that the camera was obscured after checking the security app on their phones.
“Since it was first stolen, I’ve made it a habit to check the camera every morning to see if the flag is still there,” Schert said. “On the morning of Aug. 10, I noticed the camera was blocked and I couldn’t see out of it.”
Schert said he reached out to a neighbor to check on the flag. His neighbor told him that someone had poured a brown, sticky substance over the camera lens.
“We thought maybe it was teriyaki sauce or something, and they splattered the same substance all over the flag,” he said.
Schert has lived in his home since 2011, and he said he feels there are more people coming to the North End neighborhood with the sole goal of destroying property.
North End neighbors have had flags stolen
Amy Holley has lived in her home off 17th Street in Boise since 1989.
Her family’s pride flag was either taken down or stolen three times in 2021, she said.
“The first time I found the flag on the ground, but then in March 2021, the flag was stolen off my front porch hanging from a pole,” said Holley, who has a transgender child.
Holley decided to hang a pride flag on her porch again, this time without the pole and with a new doorbell security camera. In September 2021, she saw two men on camera parking in front of her house to take the flag.
Holley filed a report with Boise police after capturing the incident.
“They stopped in front of my house, jumped out of the car, climbed on my furniture and stole that flag again,” she said. “It was a lot of effort for them to climb up, it wasn’t just running and grabbing a pole.”
After the third incident, Holley’s neighbor hung a pride flag in solidarity with her family. Her neighbor’s flag was stolen shortly after.
“That really meant a lot to me when my neighbor did that,” she said in a phone interview. “I get annoyed when people say it’s just a prank, because it’s a sign of hatred and it’s a sign of intolerance, and I just think we can’t put up with it.”
Holley hasn’t hung a pride flag again since the last one was stolen, but she said she plans on adding a flag soon to stand with fellow North End residents.
Boise community makes show of solidarity
Since posting the incident to social media, Schert and Perry have received support from Boise and beyond, with the original Instagram post gaining over 6,000 plays, some of them internationally.
Sam Sandmire, a friend of Schert’s and a volunteer for Babe Vote, called to her friends and followers on social media to order progress flags. Donald Williamson, the executive director of Boise Pride, saw her tweet and donated more than 30 flags for Sandmire to give out during a recent Women’s March rally at the Idaho Capitol.
“It’s sad to see someone spend their time and energy destroying a sign of goodness and inclusion,” Sandmire said. “I know that people who did this are not the majority, and we want to show that.”
Schert said he’s seeing members of the Boise community who have never flown a pride flag stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
“Intimidation only works when it silences people, and we have no intention of being silent and no intention of leaving,” Schert said. “If you burn our one flag, we now have over 1,000 people putting up new progress flags who have never run them before. You think you can just burn one flag, and all you did was exponentially increase the number of representation.”
David Roth, the Democratic nominee in Idaho’s U.S. Senate race against incumbent Mike Crapo and a member of the LGBTQ community, incorporated pride-flag colors into his campaign signs. In a tweet, Roth responded to social media posts about the burned Boise flag by saying his campaign signs across Idaho increase LGBTQ visibility.
“I think it’s important for representation,” he said in a phone interview. “It helps people who are just trying to come to terms with who they are to know that we are good people who are involved in the community. We volunteer, we go to church, we raise our families. You can be all of these things. You don’t have to give up any of these things and you can still be who you are.”
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