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'What statement are you making?' Gay pride flag outside Baltimore LGBTQ shop was burned in hate crime

A gay pride flag outside an LGBTQ-themed shop in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood was burned Saturday in a hate crime, according to police and the store owner.

Two unknown men were seen in surveillance footage running away after setting fire to Same Gender Love’s rainbow flag, said Marva Laws, who has owned the boutique in the 300 block of North Charles Street for a year.

“My first reaction was full of emotion,” Laws said. “I was very angry because this is mine. It belongs to me. Of course I took it personally. My second reaction, after I think about it, is I feel sorry for whoever did it. What statement are you making, other than showing that somebody ignorant walked past my store?”

Police opened a hate crime investigation after an employee reported the flag burning around 9:40 a.m. Saturday, said detective Jeremy Silbert, a police spokesman. The employee told police people in the shop did not see the suspects, he said.

The Baltimore Police Department’s criminal intelligence unit is working with Central District officers and the department’s LGBTQ liaison in the investigation, he said.

Laws said she was not at the shop at the time, but she instructed the staffer to replace the flag immediately.

Merrick Moses, board chair of the Pride Center of Maryland (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore), had been filming an episode of Queer Conversations, an internet series featuring racial, sexual and gender minorities, inside the shop when the flag was burned.

He and LaToi Williams, the show’s host, ran outside with the manager to find the flag still smoldering. Moses said it made him angry and upset.

“That flag represents not just a people but it also represents a struggle of a people to live as human beings,” Moses said. “The flag was adopted because it shows the diversity of our community. It also shows our strength and the promise of our country, that all people are created equal.

“When someone burns this flag, it says we don’t respect your humanity and we think you don’t belong here.”

Parents often come to Same Gender Love looking for cards and advice after their children come out to them, Laws said. Even those who are unhappy about it usually understand the need to be supportive of their children’s process, she said.

And while Laws does not patronize Chick-Fil-A, for instance, because of its owner’s donations to groups that oppose same-sex marriage, she said, she just eats elsewhere.

“I didn’t go burning down their damn flag,” she said.

Laws is changing the store’s name to “Love Is Love” and hosting an event there June 9 to make the niche spot more inclusive to those who do not identify as gay or lesbian.

“Our store was built and created on love,” Laws said. “That’s why I’m rebranding. I want to be completely inclusive. Love is love — period.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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