More than 75 rainbow flags have been stolen in Willow Glen as National Pride Month kicks off. It’s become a reoccurring issue.
Local real estate agent Holly Barr buys and places the flags on Willow Glen’s main street, Lincoln Avenue, annually beginning in June. Every year she says they get stolen, but she’s not letting it deter her efforts to celebrate and support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, or LGBTQ+.
“Every year it is a controversy and I just don’t get it,” Barr told San José Spotlight. “But I’m just going to keep doing it because it’s about inclusivity and acceptance and love and positivity.”
On Lincoln Avenue there are buckets at 12 different crosswalks with bright orange flags for residents to use to safely cross the street, with the expectation that people will put them back once they’re done. Barr started that initiative on her own 13 years ago and in June she adds rainbow flags to each bucket to commemorate Pride—a month-long celebration and commemoration of the LGBTQ+ communities that started after the Stonewall riots in 1969.
Barr said she buys hundreds of rainbow flags each year in preparation for them to get stolen. On each flag, Barr writes a different positive word like “love” or “acceptance” to remind people about what she believes Pride represents. She usually has to add new flags to the buckets every other day to replace the ones that are taken.
“I’ve seen them ripped up or thrown (around) random parts of the city,” Barr said. “But when people steal these, it is not for no reason. It’s a clear message.”
She said some businesses have offered to place the flags at their front doors or directly outside. Barr turned the offers down because she wants the flags available for people to use at night when the streets are more dangerous. Barr said some residents have donated money and flags to help with the costs to replace the ones that were stolen or destroyed.
But there are others who say having rainbow flags in public is an attack on children, in addition to other anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. Some of those comments can be seen on Barr’s Facebook page, Willow Glen Charm, where she updates neighbors on hyper-local news like a car accident or Willow Glen High School success stories.
She said a couple years ago, the rainbow flags were stolen and replaced with Christian-themed flags. But she has never reported any of the stolen flags to police, nor does she intend to try to capture the alleged thievery on camera.
“I do not want to waste police time with this or any other resources to catch who is doing it,” Barr said. “It’s sad, but I’ll just keep replacing them.”
Gabrielle Antolovich, board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, called Barr a “hero Realtor” and is inspired by her activism. Antolovich said she giggled with joy when she heard Barr was going to keep adding new flags despite them getting repeatedly stolen.
“I’m not surprised this is happening because homophobic people are very petty,” Antolovich told San José Spotlight. “That’s what homophobia does, it dampens the enthusiasm.”
Councilmember Dev Davis, who represents Willow Glen, said the flags could be stolen because of homophobia, or because people want to keep a rainbow flag for themselves. Nevertheless, she condemns the behavior.
“I co-sponsor the Pride flag raising at City Hall every year,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “My hope and belief is that the vast majority of our community supports Pride Month and our LGBTQ+ neighbors.”
Antolovich said she’s going to organize more people to donate flags because “we need more people that fight back.”
“Homophobia is everywhere, even in San Jose,” Antolovich said. “It’s a very sad state of affairs because the people who are against us are also against people of color, and immigrants and all kinds of other people.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.