Burned Pride flag belonged to SLO mayor, police investigating as possible hate crime

Pride in the Plaza in San Luis Obispo.
Pride in the Plaza in San Luis Obispo. The Tribune

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said the Pride flag reported burned Thursday morning belonged to her and had been hanging in front of her Mill Street home prior to its destruction.

“When I left my home in the morning, I saw something right in front of my house,” Harmon said in an interview Friday. “Someone had taken my rainbow flag and burned it.”

In addition to the flag, a yard sign containing what Harmon said was a “super positive” message was cut up, possibly with a knife, she said.

San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime, and it will be reported to the U.S. Department of Justice as required by law.

Harmon said the incident led her, on police advice, to cancel a press conference in which she had planned to address her recent condemnation of President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement. But she said, “I’m not going to let fear keep me from doing (the work of being mayor).”

She added that the vandalism runs counter to the message of a recently approved city ordinance “deeming San Luis Obispo as a welcoming and inclusive city.”

Harmon said she didn’t want to overreact but that it’s important to take incidents like this seriously.

“This is not that dissimilar to burning a cross on someone’s yard,” Harmon said.

She said somebody went to the effort to “meticulously burn a symbol of civil rights.”

Harmon said police have not yet determined whether her flag was burned as an intentional act against her or as a random act of violence.

“There’s a level of concern,” she said. “That’s on my mind as you can imagine, and also the minds of my family members.”

According to the San Luis Obispo Police Department log, the call was reported at 9:52 a.m. Thursday. SLOPD said in a statement Thursday it “is committed to the safety and inclusion of all its community members.”

Thursday marked the beginning of the LGBTQ Pride Month. It also marked the 23rd day since a SLO High School teacher’s letter to the editor quoting Bible scripture saying gay people “deserve to die” was published in the student newspaper.

Harmon said she was disturbed that in 2017 anti-LGBTQ sentiment “is not only still happening but it seems to be ramping up.”

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler