When the rainbow pride flag fluttering at the entrance of the Winchester Unitarian Society was stolen in mid-May, Rev. Heather Janules and her colleagues used the chance to reaffirm their commitment to inclusivity.

In response to the mysterious theft, they upgraded the flag with an even more inclusive symbol – a rainbow flag that now included transgender pride, and black and brown stripes to affirm LGBTQ people of color.

But someone, as it turned out, had been eyeing the new flag, too. When Janules came to the church on Saturday, June 8, she discovered that the new flag had also gone missing. Whether the theft is an attempt to make statement or play a prank is unclear, but Janules in steadfast in the message of inclusivity that WUS has been communicating by displaying the flags.

“No matter how many times it is removed, we will continue to communicate our belief that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities have inherent worth and dignity,” said Rev. Heather Janules of Winchester Unitarian Society in a written statement.

Police involved

Both thefts have been reported to Winchester Police Department earlier this week, not out of a sense of violation, Janules said, but as a “recognition that this information is helpful to those who track hate crimes."

Since the incidents were reported, the police has been examining security camera footage from downtown businesses and checking trash cans for signs of the removed flags, according to Lt. Dan O’Connell. “We’re looking into it,” he said. “Video is always the best way to go.”

Janules and WUS board are holding off on putting up a new new flag, she said. Instead, the plan is to put a sign on the lawn in front of the building with a message: “All have inherent worth, including the person who removed our flag.”

Longtime support for LGBTQ community

Unitarian Universalists (UU) became one of the first denominations in the U.S. to solemnize same-sex marriages in the 1970s, Janules said.  In many UU congregations LGBTQ fully participate and serve in congregational life. “It’s no longer an ‘issue’ but simply a way of being,” she said.

When Janlues first arrived to the Winchester congregation, she initiated the public display of the rainbow flag, which had been stored in the closet at WUS. “Because of the shame faith communities have inflicted on LGBT/queer people, I believe every congregation that has committed to be intentionally welcoming has a responsibility to communicate this aspiration of full inclusion in a public way,” she said in a statement.

Need for more education

WUS’s member Betsy Bowles acknowledged that if the flag had been taken to promote inclusive values, “may it hang gloriously.” “But if they did it to be mean – shame on them!” Bowles’s marriage to her longtime partner Patricia Meny was the first legal same-sex wedding at Winchester Unitarian Society, and one of the first in Winchester.

While recently visiting Lexington, another WUS member Karen Caputo, was moved by the the message on the rainbow flag waving at the town library with the words “We Welcome All.” She suggested hosting a pride celebration on the Town Common in Winchester next year, and holding other activities to bring awareness to the LGBTQ issues. “I hope we can work with the town of Winchester to encourage more of a Pride presence throughout the town since it is clearly needed,” Caputo said.

Janules encouraged the thief to come out and share what’s on their mind “in a peaceful way.” “Vandalizing a house of worship, which is a felony in Massachusetts, is not the most productive way to share ideas,” she wrote in a statement.