The Albany Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the burning of an LGBT flag outside an Albany center that serves those with HIV and AIDS.
Employees at the Albany Damien Center discovered the burned flag Thursday morning outside the center at 646 State St. and contacted police.
The Albany Damien Center posted a photo Thursday afternoon of the burned flag, including the center’s Executive Director Perry Junjulas staring through it. The center’s posting said they are “deeply saddened by the vandalism of the LGBT banner.”
“In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, it is very disheartening to have this happen in our local community,” the posting reads. “We appreciate all of our community’s support and love extended and stand in unity with our LGBT community during this time.”
The post quickly gained notice online, garnering more than 500 shares and more than 160 comments within four hours of posting.
The Albany Damien Center is housed in the First Lutheran Church. The center moved in temporarily after a 2013 building fire at its previous location.
The center provides services to those affected by HIV/AIDS and their families. Schenectady also has a Damien Center under the umbrella of the Albany site.
Junjulas on Thursday evening said the center couldn’t be silent about the incident. He said it appears that whoever burned the flag deliberately burned each color on the rainbow flag, also referred to as the gay pride flag.
“It’s a hate crime,” Junjulas said. “Police are treating it that way. That’s the way it feels. It feels so wrong on so many levels.”
Junjulas, a married gay man living with AIDS himself, heads the center that serves about 400 people living with HIV and AIDS each year.
He noted that the burning came just over a week after the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre that killed 49 people. June is Gay Pride month.
Police have stepped up patrols around the center, Junjulas said.
Police said they believe that someone burned the flag sometime between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday. They are asking anyone with information to contact police at 462-8039.
Junjulas said he noticed the flag from afar Thursday morning. Someone who got a closer look then alerted him to the vandalism.
He eventually took the burned flag down. As word spread Thursday, Junjulas said they received two separate donations of replacement flags. He hopes to have the replacement up Friday.
Also housed in the church is the Capital Area Council of Churches. “The Damien Center is a safe place for people with HIV and AIDS,” Council Executive Director Deb Riitano said. “This is such a violation, the burning of the flag. It’s so shocking — we’re not even out of the shadow of Orlando yet.”
Riitano, through her position at the council, led a packed interfaith service at the College of St. Rose in response to the Orlando massacre.
Riitano noted the flag burning comes just days after that service where so many showed support for the LGBT community.
“It’s a hate crime,” Riitano said of the flag burning. “I think there’s no other way to look at it.”