Column: L.A. vandals are targeting Pride flags. And it’s not having the effect they hoped for

Pride flags hanging from a bridge
Someone has been stealing Pride flags from the Shakespeare Bridge in Franklin Hills. The neighborhood association keeps putting them back up.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Whoever is stealing the Pride flags from the Shakespeare Bridge might want to reconsider their motives.

They’re hard to miss, those flags. Attached by wire to four of the bridge’s towers, they flap and flutter in the breeze, brilliant banners rendered almost medieval by the Gothic-style architecture, startling and resilient in the gloom of this year’s spring and early summer.

Almost three weeks since the Franklin Hills Residents Assn. hung them, the flags seem almost brand new. Because they are. They first went up on May 27, in preparation for Pride month, and almost every other day since, someone has torn them down, sometimes shredding them in the process, sometimes balling them up and tossing them in the ravine below.


Every time this has happened, the association, with the help of an outraged and growing membership, put new ones up again.

“We’ve lost about 25 flags,” says association vice president Dave McDonald, “at about $20 apiece. But we’ve had tremendous support from the neighborhood. People coming out of the woodwork to join the association — they may not want to be joiners but they do want to be allies. They’re sending money and expressing outrage. One emailed us to say, ‘My husband says he will sit up on the bridge all night with a bullhorn.’”

Franklin Hills is an architecturally chaotic neighborhood that snakes up the hills of Los Feliz. It is anchored by the Shakespeare Bridge, which was built in 1926 and named a historic landmark in 1974. Both Walt and Roy Disney once owned homes there, as have many industry types, artists and celebrities since. Even with the hilly streets and dearth of sidewalks, it is a family-friendly community, well-known as a prime Halloween destination. Each year, many residents construct elaborate ghostly tableaux and several streets are closed off for trick-or-treaters.

The association regularly decorates the bridge for Halloween, Christmas and pretty much every other holiday. “On Fourth of July we hang bunting. There are all kinds of flags on the bridge,” says McDonald, who has worked for the association for three years and lived in the neighborhood for 15. “Right now, there are also Juneteenth flags on the bridge, but only the Pride flags have been destroyed.”

For L.A.’s queer community, competing Pride festivals aren’t about infighting. They’re oases from a nationwide conservative attack on LGBTQ+ rights.

June 12, 2023

The Los Angeles Police Department has investigated the crime but thus far has no suspects. It is not the only such vandalism that has marred this year’s Pride celebrations. In April, a Pride flag was burned at the Pasadena Buddhist Temple; a Pride flag hanging at Harmony Toluca Lake was recently slashed in what the pastor there called “a hate crime.”

It is, however, the first year such a thing has happened to the Shakespeare Bridge and, McDonald says, many of the residents are shocked. “They are devastated — no one expected this kind of thing to happen anymore.”


The association is avoiding words such as “hate crime” in the hopes of keeping the actions of what they believe are one or two people from overriding the larger message of Pride Month.

Because, McDonald says, if the vandal was hoping to send some kind of anti-LGBTQ+ message, the result has been the exact opposite. “As upsetting as it is,” he says, ”it’s been a surprisingly positive experience. It has brought the neighborhood together and brought out the allies. People are texting neighbors to raise money to replace the flags and raise awareness.”

Pride flags and police officers at a protest and counterprotest outside a North Hollywood elementary school
Los Angeles and school police were on hand outside Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood earlier this month as some parents protested a Pride Month recognition at the campus.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It’s easy to see the destruction of Pride flags, here and around the country, as support for a recently resurfaced wave of bigotry that has targeted school curricula, libraries, youth sports and public bathrooms. Corporations including Target and Budweiser have been attacked for their support of Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community.

At the end of May, as some parents at Saticoy Elementary in North Hollywood recently protested a then-upcoming Pride assembly, the school was broken into and a Pride flag belonging to a transgender teacher was burned. In early June, as the Glendale Unified School Board discussed, among other things, once again recognizing June as Pride Month, a face-off between pro- and anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators turned violent. (It was later revealed that many of the anti-LGBTQ+ protesters were not part of the district and included several members of the hate group the Proud Boys.)

All around the country, Pride flags are being stolen or defaced, driven in part by online challenges from anti-LGBTQ+ websites. In that context, the theft from the Shakespeare Bridge is, perhaps, not surprising. Outrageous and infuriating, but not surprising.


Nor — and this is important — is the response to all of these alarming events.

Amid anti-LGBTQ+ backlash, Pride events are seen as more important than ever in West Hollywood, a longtime haven for the queer community.

June 9, 2023

Despite the online protest, Saticoy Elementary had its Pride assembly, which had always been optional for students. Despite the violence shown by anti-LGBTQ+ protesters, Glendale Unified approved the recognition of Pride month. And despite someone’s repeated attempts to strip Franklin Hills of its rainbows, Pride flags still fly from the Shakespeare Bridge.

As they do in Ann Arbor, Mich., where St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church and Northside Presbyterian Church, which share the same building, responded to the theft of two of their Pride flags by planting 300 similar banners near the entrance to their churches with a sign saying, “Need a flag, take a flag.” Or West Minneapolis, where the theft of a Pride flag from his front porch prompted Rob Wedewer to raise more than $3,000 to ensure that anyone in his neighborhood who wanted a Pride flag got one.

After the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted against having Pride flags fly at government buildings, community members unfurled a 33-by-24-foot flag, the largest Pride flag in Orange County, at the Huntington Beach Pier. And in Los Angeles, Pride parades were as festive and well-attended as ever.

Just as the Grinch discovered when he tried to steal Christmas from Whoville, Pride is not something that comes in a flag. Just as decorated trees and twinkly lights are simply an expression of the joy of Christmas, the rainbow flag is simply the sigil of something more essential — the power of the LGBTQ+ community throughout its historic struggles and a celebration of humanity in all its glorious forms.

We still have a lot of work to do — although 80% of Americans support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, the bigotry of a relative few continues to threaten equal freedom in this country in myriad ways.

That’s why the response to the increased theft and destruction of Pride flags is far more important than the incidents themselves.


You can’t steal, or burn, or destroy a rainbow; it will shine across the sky whenever it chooses no matter what you do. As for a Pride flag, well, steal one, and another, or 300 others, will simply appear in its place.