Pride flag theft sparks worry, then joy

A screen shot from Channel 19 News' coverage of the flag bandit.

What looked at first to be a possible hate crime in University Heights turned out to be nothing more than a home-improvement project.

Last month, University Heights neighbors feared the worst when a gay-pride flag disappeared from a house on Edgerton Road. They were concerned the theft was a hate crime, and an attempt to intimidate and silence the LGBTQIA+ community.

Charlie Olivio turned to a Facebook discussion board to ask neighbors if they had any video surveillance of someone stealing the pride flag belonging to him and his husband, Tommy Chesnes. Olivio noted that the neighborhood has many homes that fly pride flags, and expressed concern that others may also have fallen victim to a thief.

Neighbors rallied to the couple’s defense, offering encouragement and shared frustration. Elizabeth Wolfson, Melissa Connelly, and Joe Yosef Hochheiser went so far as to offer to purchase new pride flags. Olivio suggested that neighbors instead make donations to the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, or to The Trevor Project.

While neighbors struggled to solve the crime, the caper was no match for the the couple's dog, Daisy.

In an interview with Channel 19 News, Olivio said, “Our dog started barking out the window and directly at the tree [in our front yard]. So, I opened the blinds, looked out the window and saw this little red and orange stripe.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I think that’s our pride flag,’ and I looked and saw a big, fat raccoon walking up the limb.”

Turns out, the flag was taken by a raccoon for a nest that, apparently, needed a splash of color.

University Heights residents celebrated the happy end to the story on social media. Leilani Hall surmised that the “racoon wanted to show his pride,” while Chris Janata stated he was “so happy the result is a critter, not hate.”

Olivio and Chesnes “love calling University Heights home,” and were happy to find out that the thief was not someone with malicious intent.

For the third year in a row, a pride flag will be displayed in front of University Heights City Hall for the entire month of June, as part of the city’s pride-month celebration. And this year, at the base of the flagpole, a toy raccoon will be displayed in honor of the Great Edgerton Road Caper of 2021.

Maeve Kozak

Maeve Kozak is a summer intern with the city of University Heights.

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Volume 14, Issue 6, Posted 11:06 AM, 05.27.2021