When tragedy strikes, sometimes the simplest and most effective response is for members of the community to band together and support one another. Such was the case last week after an unknown perpetrator burned Christ Church Grosse Pointe Episcopal Church’s Progress Pride flag and left its remains at the base of the flagpole. The ensuing outcry has been loud and clear.
Of the church’s three flags, U.S., Episcopal and Progress Pride, only the Pride flag was vandalized. The Rev. Andrew Van Culin, aka Father Drew, said he didn’t know exactly when it happened.
“What we do know is on Wednesday morning, a parishioner was walking here at the church,” Van Culin said, “and noticed that the [Pride] flag wasn't there. And on further investigation, she found that the flag had been burned.” She contacted the pastor, who called the response of the Grosse Pointe Farms Police “helpful and sympathetic.”
The church does not use security cameras.
Van Culin dispatched a heartfelt letter to the congregation with news of the crime, in which he called the incident “candidly, among the saddest and most troubling of my 24-plus years in ordained ministry.”
Meanwhile, Welcoming Everyone Grosse Pointe (We GP) sprang into action. Formed after the 2016 election, We GP is a grassroots 501(c)(3) committed to resisting attacks on civil rights and human rights and to promoting policies that align with their guiding principles. We GP engages in community building and activism, which is what came next in the form of a community-wide emergency Pride flag delivery.
We GP received well over 200 requests for Pride flags which were delivered over the weekend to Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods. Sean Greenroyd, who is bisexual, is one of the volunteers.
“I took my whole family out yesterday to deliver the list that we had,” Greenroyd told Pride Source on Sunday. He has three young kids. “And it was nice talking to people about it, trying to stay positive instead of focusing on the obvious negative.”
Greenroyd was raised Christian. “I can't imagine that that was a Christian that took that flag down and burned it,” he said. “It's a terrible thing that happened, and it's going to continue to happen, but they're on the wrong side of history. So it's just a matter of staying the course, keeping positive.”
Valarie St. John isn’t backing down, either. As Grosse Pointe Public School’s first openly LGBTQ+ trustee and a parent, she’s thinking of the kids. St. John pointed out Christ Church stands next to the high school. “I know that the intention is to terrorize the LGBTQ community,” St. John said. “I'm not going to let it affect me.”
St. John said she is intentional about speaking out. “Younger people who aren't as secure in their identities are going to feel more afraid and feel like their community doesn't support them or that there are dangerous people in the community who want to hurt them,” she said.
St. John has reason for concern. She once filed a police report with the Grosse Pointe Farms Police after receiving homophobic threats on social media. She says there exists a small minority who are angry that the status quo is changing from the 1950s. “It's not particularly important to me who did it,” she said, in reference to the flag burning, “It just needs to stop.”
Though shocked by what happened, 18-year-old Alexander Kuplicki didn’t sound entirely surprised. “It's sort of one of those things that you never want to believe because I know a lot of that is present in our community, but it's not always forward and outward,” said Kuplicki, who is gay and lived in Grosse Pointe until recently leaving for college.
Kuplicki said the attack felt personal, but it has only served to galvanize the community. “It's just kind of further invigorating us,” Kuplicki said. “We're a strong community, and we've dealt with worse. And if people think this is going to stop us or dissuade us from continuing our work, they're sorely mistaken.”
Kuplicki rated the queer friendliness of his community, acknowledging that "if you're a conforming cisgender gay couple, I would say it's a pretty welcoming community.” However, he said it’s harder in the school system for trans and nonbinary students.
Shannon Byrne, who is openly queer, is 47 and president of We GP. Byrne was born in Grosse Pointe.
“Initially, I was pretty shocked,” Byrne said. “The flag at Christ Church has been flying for several years. They're one of the sponsors [of] our Pride March here in Grosse Pointe.” We GP has organized the event for the past seven years. Like the others, Byrne is undeterred. “We’re not going to let this unsettling event change who we are.”
Proud of the growth of We GP, Byrne feels, “Over the last seven years, watching that support grow has been incredibly heartening for me as a leader of We GP and for me as a queer woman here in Grosse Pointe.”
Leslie Scott feels what happened is a reflection of the larger problems the country is facing, mirrored through smaller communities. “Obviously, I was very disheartened, upset, outraged as a queer woman of color, a Black woman married to another woman with two young children,” Scott said. “It's extremely important to me that my family is safe and feels safe and that my community and our allies feel safe.” She added that she does feel safe and has visible, queer neighbors.
With experience as a public defender, Scott’s vantage point is unique. “I have the sense that broken people do broken things,” Scott said. “I would like to see whoever did this caught and held to account. But I also, at the same time, believe in second chances and restorative justice.”
Over the weekend, the church swapped their Facebook cover photo for one proudly displaying their flags as they originally stood.
When asked Friday about the upcoming sermon, Van Culin said, “I hope it's a more effective one than ordinary.” By then, there were new developments.
“Good morning, friends,” Van Culin began. He said he had sad news to share.
“This morning, or last night, presumably, the replacement flag that we put out was torn down. And so we’ve replaced that flag again this morning. And we will continue to do [so]."