Pasadena Buddhist Temple’s LGBTQ flag set on fire

WELCOMING THE COMMUNITY WITH PRIDE ­— This Progress Pride flag, along with a Black Lives Matter Flag, hang from the Pasadena Buddhist Temple’s wooden gate. photo by Ren Gibbs

WELCOMING THE COMMUNITY WITH PRIDE ­— This Progress Pride flag, along with a Black Lives Matter Flag, hang from the Pasadena Buddhist Temple’s wooden gate. photo by Ren Gibbs

PASADENA, Calif. — A rainbow flag at the Pasadena Buddhist Temple — a salute to the LGBTQ community — was set on fire and burned on April 24, according to Gregory Gibbs, the resident minister who is in his ninth year at the temple. Local artists made the hand-painted Progress Pride flag, which — measuring approximately four-by-six-feet — had been hanging at the temple for the last few years.

The flag had been placed on the temple’s wire fence along with a Black Lives Matter flag that was left untouched. In 1978 artist and activist Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag for the LGBTQ community. It has since been updated multiple times to also acknowledge people of color, the transgender community, intersex members, and more.

Another Progress Pride flag and a Black Lives Matter flag, which hang from the temple’s wooden gate, were also spared.

“We came to the temple the next morning and found that the flag was missing, and then found the burnt remnants on the ground,” commented Gibbs in a telephone interview.

“Then, while the police were investigating, one of the neighbors came by and told us she had seen the flag on fire and had put it out with a garden hose.”

At this time, the incident is not being considered a hate crime, Lt. Monica Cuellar, public information officer at the Pasadena Police Department, stated in an e-mail. “The exact time that the incident occurred is unknown … Follow-up investigation is being conducted. No suspects and/or witnesses have been identified as of now.”

Temple members’ reaction to the flag burning incident is “more a sense of sadness,” Gibbs said. “It happened two weeks ago … We try to include everyone, and now we’re … being threatened because of our inclusion of others. Some of the members have expressed sadness, but no one has expressed any fear … It’s largely a feeling that we’re going to continue to stand up for persons of minority ethnicities … and people of gender identities and sexual orientation, which draw prejudice upon them. We intend to continue to support this LGBTQ+ group.”

The significance of having a rainbow flag at the Pasadena Buddhist Temple, the minister stated, is “to encourage persons of lesbian, gay or transgender or non-binary gender to know that they’re welcome here … We don’t know of any members of this temple who might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people … Nonetheless, we have a support group here. We are connected with the Gardena Buddhist Temple, and we have an LGBTQ+ support group called Ichimi — a term from Shinran’s writings that means ‘one flavor.’”

The temple had experienced “nothing in the last 10 years” that might be considered a hate crime, Gibbs said. “We have had this Black Lives Matter Flag, and the Rainbow Flag in support of LGBTQ+, for about four years. So, we’re surprised that we’re getting this hate-filled reaction now … There have been no other incidents like that in Pasadena … So, we suspected it might be someone in the neighborhood whose hate was directed toward LGBTQ+ people.”

Temple members don’t think the hate was directed against people of Japanese descent, Gibbs said. “About two-thirds of the temple’s community are Japanese American. We’re a Buddhist temple, a minority religion here whose membership is predominantly Japanese American — a minority ethnicity in this country. We aren’t 100 percent sure the hatred isn’t directed at us as well. But we do believe … that they’re objecting to our being accepting of persons of various gender identities and sexual behaviors, sexual orientations … or because we support anyone who is marginalized or oppressed.”

Pasadena Buddhist Temple is increasing its security, Gibbs revealed. “We’re getting more security cameras, and I personally have been doing more walking patrols of the neighborhood … even though it’s not clear that we’re under any danger. We’re open to spending more money on cameras.”

Gibbs expects the temple’s board members will decide to put up another Rainbow flag to replace the one that was burned. “We’re certainly not going to reverse our position.

We’re not going to change our policy because someone does some dangerous vandalism on our temple and expresses hate. We’re going to continue just as we have.”

Although there haven’t been any similar hate crimes in Pasadena in recent times, the Pasadena Police Department is conducting proactive patrols and community outreach, according to Cuellar.

Punishment for perpetrators of these types of hate crimes and vandalism “varies, depending on the nature and the severity of the offense, as well as the applicable laws within the jurisdiction where the crime occurred,” Cuellar added. “In general, punishments for criminal activity can include: fines, probation, incarceration, community service and restitution. Specific punishment for a perpetrator will depend on a variety of factors and is determined by the courts.”

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