ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Albany Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a hate crime at the Damien Center in Albany.
Members of the Albany Damien Center found someone had set their LGBT pride flag on fire overnight. At 9 a.m. Thursday, a member found the flag charred and shredded.
The flag was hanging outside the First Lutheran Church on Western Avenue, which has been temporarily housing the Damien Center. The center is a safe haven for people living with HIV and AIDS.
The LGBT community at the center said finding their flag burned sends a threatening message, especially after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12.
“I’ve had a pit in my stomach all day long,” Albany Damien Center Exec. Dir. Perry Junjulas said.
Junjulas said it feels like a personal threat.
“Sort of almost a look over my shoulder type of feeling,” he said. “That, and, am I personally safe? As a gay man living very openly in this community with AIDS?”
Last week, the LGBT community held a vigil for the victims in Orlando.
“To see those same colors up in flames and shreds? It’s unbelievable to me,” Capital Area Council of Churches Exec. Dir. Deb Riitano said.
Within seconds of a social media post, Albany Councilmember Judd Krasher got a new flag from Romeo’s Gifts on Lark Street and brought it to the center.
“Whoever did this, if it was motivated thinking they were going to scare us, they are severely mistaken,” Krasher said. “We’ll be damned if we don’t hang a flag outside one of the landmark LGBTQ centers.”
Junjulas is grateful to have community support. He has accepted new flags to replace what was destroyed and hopes others will see them as a symbol of resilience.
“Our history is about suffering in silence, in shame and discrimination,” he said. “Well, no more. No more of that.”
The Pride Center of the Capital Region also donated a new LGBT banner to the center within minutes of learning the news.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at (518) 462-8039.