The burning of two rainbow flags outside a rural church this weekend was personal for James and Brent Denisar-Green.
The Durham couple had carried the flags with other members of Hillsborough United Church of Christ in the annual Gay Pride march. They got married in the church last year.
“I don’t know how you can’t take it personally,” said Brent Denisar-Green, 36.
“What crossed my mind was how hateful,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe somebody would do that, especially to a church.”
There’s no clue yet if the vandalism was tied to House Bill 2, the new state law that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender.
A spokesman for Equality NC, an LGBTQ advocacy group working to repeal the law, said he did not know of any other flag burnings or vandalism linked to it. Efforts to reach the Orange County Sheriff’s Office were unsuccessful.
On Monday the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jay Kennett, said he wouldn’t have been surprised if the two flags beside the church sign on Davis Road had been stolen.
He said he was surprised when church members found the charred tatters of the flags when they arrived for a yard sale Saturday morning.
They replaced them that day.
“Sad,” Kennett said Monday. “I just grieve that somebody would do that.”
“I have to say there’s a little bit of anger there too,” he added.
The UCC church, off a winding two-lane road past a green hillside dotted with black cattle, has about about 110 adult members from five counties.
I just grieve that somebody would do that.
The Rev. Jay Kennett
The flags went up about three weeks ago “just to let the community know and LGBT folks in the community know there was a church that supported them and welcomed them,” Kennett said.
Members thought it was important “not to hide from who we are and how we share God’s love,” he said.
The Denisar-Greens said the incident hit especially hard because both had felt rejected by churches before and consider the Hillsborough church part of their family.
Brent was not yet out when James asked him to attend services with him a month or two after they started dating.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know about that,’ and he was, like, ‘No, I swear this is different,’” Brent said. “It is different.”
“They got ecstatic when we said we were going to have our wedding there,” he said.
James, a medical student, offered an invitation to whoever burned the flags.
“I would challenge them to come and actually visit our church,” he said. “We’re open to all, even those who burn flags.”