Belmont police investigate vandalism of Pride banner at church

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Thursday July 20, 2023
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The rainbow banner in front of the Congregational Church of Belmont was vandalized sometime overnight July 18. Photo: Courtesy CCB
The rainbow banner in front of the Congregational Church of Belmont was vandalized sometime overnight July 18. Photo: Courtesy CCB

Belmont police have launched a hate crime investigation after a rainbow banner at a local church was vandalized earlier this week.

According to the Reverend Jim Mitulski, the Pride banner at Congregational Church of Belmont, where he is senior pastor, was discovered vandalized Tuesday, July 18.

"A rainbow banner celebrating the Congregational Church of Belmont's commitment to LGBTQ rights — and its extravagant welcome to members of that community — was slashed in two on the porch of the church overnight Tuesday, July 18," Mitulski stated in a news release.

The church's office administrator discovered the vandalism when she arrived at work on Wednesday morning, July 19, the release stated. The Belmont Police Department responded to a call from the church that day.

Belmont police Lieutenant Pete Lotti confirmed to the Bay Area Reporter that police did respond to the church and took a report.

"We are investigating it as a hate crime," Lotti said. "We shot the report straight up to the investigative unit."

Lotti said that police have not found any surveillance cameras in the area of the church, which is located at 751 Alameda de las Pulgas in the San Mateo County city south of San Francisco. The church is a member of the United Church of Christ denomination.

It isn't the first time in recent months that a church in the area has been targeted due to displaying a Pride flag, In May, Palo Alto police opened a hate crime investigation into the vandalism of the LGBTQ symbol flown by the city's First Lutheran Church.

A church employee had found it ripped down and reported the incident to police on May 16, as the Mercury News reported.

Mitulski, who once served as the senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco when it was located in the LGBTQ Castro district, has served as a pastor at various UCC churches over the years. He returned to the Bay Area and the Belmont church earlier this year.

"The vandalism at the Congregational Church of Belmont is disappointing but not surprising," stated Mitulski. "As a gay pastor in the United Church of Christ, I've noticed a marked increase in hostility toward the LGBTQ community of late. At CCB, we remain deeply committed to LGBTQ inclusion and equality in church and society.

"Rather than engaging in violence, I invite whoever did this to engage in a sincere conversation with us about why our church proudly welcomes LGBTQ people," he added. "Our church stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community as part of our faith."

In a brief phone interview, Mitulski said that since moving back from Duluth, Minnesota, where he'd been a pastor, things in the Bay Area "seem more conservative."

"It felt important to report it and note it," he said of the incident.

The rainbow banner, along with another with the words "Black Lives Matter" printed in white on a black background, were installed in March 2022 between pillars of the porch of the historic church building, originally the Belle Monte Country Club built in 1925. The Black Lives Matter banner was not vandalized, the release stated.

Mitulski did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lotti said that anyone with information or tips about the incident can call the Belmont Police Department at (650) 595-7400. People can remain anonymous, he added.

Updated, 7/20/23: This article has been updated with additional comments from Jim Mitulski.

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