Residents in Watertown, New York, have rallied around the local LGBTQ community after a man was arrested for tearing down a Pride flag in front of City Hall last week.
Dozens of people staged an impromptu protest after a man took the Pride flag from Watertown City Hall, which was flying in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, and put it into a city drop box, WWNY reports.
Donnie Lee Barrigar, 36, filmed himself removing the flag on Saturday, June 20. He told the Waterdown Daily Times that it was a “peaceful protest” and expected his actions to be protected by the First Amendment.
He told WWNY that the flag was “mocking God and it’s mocking all the good Christians we have in our community.”
“I’m covered under the First Amendment right,” Barrigar said. “We have the right for protesting and that includes flags. So flags are covered under the First Amendment right for free speech.”
Barrigar’s actions were met with outcry from both Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith, who called it an “act of ignorance and narrow-mindedness” from an “individual who literally believes the world is flat.” (Barrigar had posted his video to a YouTube account called “Flat Earth Watertown New York.”)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was “disgusted” by Barrigar’s actions and urged that he be “held accountable for this repugnant attack against the LGBTQ community.”
“These hateful acts of division have no place in our state and we will not allow a bigot to bully the Watertown community with impunity,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Barrigar was arrested last week and charged with third-degree criminal tampering, news of which broke during a protest against his removal of the flag.
Led by Seth Hill and his partner Sexton Reese, more than 100 people gathered outside City Hall to show support for LGBTQ people. Hill told WWNY that the city “won’t stand for this anymore.”
“Watertown is all inclusive,” Hill said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re part of the LGBTQ community or if you’re straight, Republican, Democrat — we are all here together to show we will not stand for hate and love will prevail.”
When news reached the crowd that Barrigar had been arrested and charged, the protest turned into a celebration, as participants waved signs and painted rainbow colors on the sidewalks, while passing cars honked in support, WWNY reports.
Reece said that he wanted the event to send a message to youth “driving by in the back seats of the car to know that if you are part of the LGBTQIA community, you are accepted, you are loved, we are here for you.”
He added: “There’s a community, we are strong, we are just as tight as a family and we take care of each other.”
Watertown City Hall reinstated its Pride flag after Barrigar removed it, and said it would remain until the end of June.
Barrigar was previously known for his anti-LGBTQ views after last year posting on Facebook urging a mass shooting during Watertown’s Pride celebration.
“Watertown is having a LBGTQ celebration,” he wrote. “For the love of God please let someone go on a mass shooting.”
Syracuse.com reports that Barrigar’s comments led to police attention, but he wasn’t charged. He later boasted about the lack of arrest, claiming he was “1-0” against Gov. Cuomo.
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