Editorial: Killed over a Pride flag

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday August 23, 2023
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Laura Ann Carleton. Photo: Posted to Facebook by Mountain Provisions Coop
Laura Ann Carleton. Photo: Posted to Facebook by Mountain Provisions Coop

In a shocking and horrific incident, a Southern California woman was shot to death because she had a rainbow flag flying outside her shop in Cedar Glen, a small town near Lake Arrowhead in Southern California. Laura Ann Carleton, known as Lauri, had run her Mag.Pi clothing store for years and was loved by her community. A straight ally, Carleton, 66, was a wife and mother of nine. She was known as a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community.

"Today was a very sad day for Lake Arrowhead and for the LGBTQ community," Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ posted on its Facebook page August 19. "Our friend and supporter Lauri Carleton @magpi_shop was murdered defending her lgbtq+ Pride flags in front of her store in Cedar Glen California. Lauri did not identify as LGBTQ+, but spent her time helping & advocating for everyone in the community. She will be truly missed."

Investigators said Travis Ikeguchi, 27, shot and killed Carleton because she displayed a Pride flag outside her business. ABC7 Eyewitness News reported that during a Monday afternoon news conference, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said a 911 caller told dispatchers Ikeguchi cut down the flag while he argued with Carleton before shooting her. He also said the suspect yelled "many homophobic slurs" toward Carleton.

Dicus also discussed the national impact of the case, which is unsurprising given the senseless nature of the shooting and after authorities revealed that Ikeguchi had posted anti-LGBTQ content on social media. "This particular victim has had an impact really across the United States," said Dicus. "We've been reached out by the vice president of the United States. Our victim certainly had a major impact on the community and people that she's come across with during her lifetime."

This wasn't even the first time someone objected to Carleton's Pride flags. ABC7 reported that others had been removed, and Carleton would replace them. This week, there were numerous Pride flags along with flowers as a memorial tribute outside Mag-Pi. Yet one gunman who was determined to silence her shattered Carleton's family, the LGBTQ community, and deeply affected people across the nation.

Hate doesn't occur in a vacuum. The rise in anti-LGBTQ hate speech is dangerous and has accompanied the push to pass various anti-LGBTQ laws in conservative states. Even in blue states, however, anti-LGBTQ hate is rising. On July 29 in Brooklyn, New York, Black queer dancer O'Shea Sibley was stabbed to death while voguing at a gas station. Video footage from the gas station reportedly showed a group of men shouting homophobic slurs and insults. A 17-year-old male later turned himself in and is facing murder and hate crime charges.

Mourners left flowers and rainbow flags outside Mag.Pi, the clothing store in Cedar Glen, California where owner Laura Ann Carleton was killed. Photo: Courtesy Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ Facebook page  

In California, Carleton's killing is the most recent example of violent anti-LGBTQ hate. Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, condemned the attack and offered condolences to Carleton's family.

"Over the past year, we have seen a sharp increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric being expressed by far right extremists and hate groups — rhetoric which has resulted in physical intimidation, harassment, and acts of violence," stated Tony Hoang, EQCA executive director. "From a Pride flag being burned in front of Saticoy Elementary School to fistfights breaking out at a Glendale Unified school board meeting to the windows of an open and affirming Lutheran church in Fresno being shattered, these extremists have shown up in greater and greater numbers with the intent of advancing their hateful agenda. The perpetrator in this violent incident made several hateful remarks about the Pride flag displayed in the store before he acted."

Elsewhere in the Golden State this year, we've seen cities decide not to recognize Pride Month and school boards adopt policies that would forcibly out transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students to their parents without the students' consent. We're reported on vandalized Pride flags in the Bay Area, and are following the case of a man charged with a hate crime, among other charges, for attacking another man in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood. Thankfully, that incident didn't result in serious injury. (The defendant, Muhammed Abdullah, is also accused of stealing a Pride flag and has made anti-LGBTQ comments in court. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.)

The seeming acceptance on the part of some people to condone physical and verbal attacks on the LGBTQ community must end. Unfortunately, we don't see that happening anytime soon. From the heated political discourse in this country to the obsession with vitriolic comments against us, too many people think it's OK to harangue LGBTQ people and their supporters, and now it's leading to fatal attacks.

It's not OK, and people need to know that allies like Carleton and queers like Sibley deserved to live their lives, not have them taken too soon.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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