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Lansing neighbors won't back down after Pride flags are reported stolen, vandalized, set on fire

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Courtesy | Ryan Kost
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Lansing's East Side Neighborhood Organization is displaying rainbow flags in June 2022 to honor LGBTQ+ Pride month, but organizers say the flags have repeatedly been vandalized and stolen.

Lansing resident Ryan Kost woke up after 5 a.m. Tuesday to find his neighbor upset and at his door.

The neighbor's trail camera had captured someone using a bottle full of gasoline to douse a rainbow flag and set it on fire.

Kost, a board member of Lansing's East Side Neighborhood Organization, says the fire was the latest in a series of actions targeting a display that honors LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

The neighborhood group swaps out the seasonal flags it displays alongside an American flag near a Michigan Avenue sign welcoming drivers at the gateway between East Lansing and Lansing.

But, since the start of June, rainbow flags placed near the sign have been stolen or vandalized at least five times, Kost said.

He says, at one point, someone even used an electric saw to cut through a steel lock before taking a flag. It's clear from that persistence—and the fact that the American flag remains untouched — that someone is targeting members of Lansing's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, Kost said.

"I think there's a lot of disappointment that is going around," he said. "Maybe some frustration, anger. I can tell you that I'm an hopeless optimist. I am optimistic every time we put a flag up that it won't happen again."

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Courtesy | Ryan Kost
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Damage to nearby flowers and a wooden sign after an unknown person set fire to an LGBTQ+ Pride flag on Michigan Avenue on Lansing's east side in the early morning of Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

Lansing firefighters responded at about 2:20 a.m. to the flag fire and saw a man wearing all black running away, Lansing Police Department spokeswoman Jordan Gulkis said, adding that police are investigating the incident.

Police also have the footage from the trail camera, which a neighbor had donated to place near the flags.

In a statement, Lansing Police Chief Ellery Sosebee said the department's "goal is to assure the city of Lansing is a safe place to live, work and visit for everyone including the LGBTQ+ community. "

He added, "the Lansing Police Department will not tolerate any act of hate and intimidation and will seek the appropriate prosecution for any of these crimes.”

Kost, a Ward 1 City Council candidate, says he's heartened by the residents who've stepped up to donate money and replacement flags.

"There's kids watching all of this," he said. "They see a charred flag out there. And I don't know what kid needs to see that good people will continue to do good things, but I hope that this is a good example of good people continuing to do good things and not just cowering when something does something so awful."

Kost added the organization has "people that are ready to sit out there 24/7" to watch the flags.

By mid-day Tuesday, another rainbow flag was flying.