A gay pride flag has been stolen from a religious center at Virginia Tech for the third time in two weeks, and this time a Confederate flag was erected in its place. Police in Blacksburg, Va., are investigating the vandalism at the Wesley center, which campus minister Bret Gresham spotted Saturday morning. A Confederate flag replaced a pride flag that had hung outside the front of the building above one bench painted in rainbow colors and another that included the words Black Lives Matter. Gresham says another Confederate flag was erected at the back of the United Methodist ministry. He describes this as "an escalation" from previous incidents in which pride flags were ripped from the building, adding that LGBTQ students are "hurt, saddened, and scared," per NBC News.
"This hate crime goes against all that we believe, and we want our LGBTQ+ community to know that we will always love, support, and embrace you with open arms," the center says in a Facebook post. The Blacksburg Police Department says the case has been assigned to the criminal investigations unit. The Wesley center now plans to install security cameras, per WSET. "My No. 1 concern is the students and making sure they feel they have a safe environment to come, to live out their faith and be affirmed in who they are," Gresham tells NBC. It's not just pride flags that have been targeted recently. Flags of Middle Eastern countries were stolen from Hillel at Virginia Tech, the school's largest Jewish organization, during the midst of the latest Israel-Palestinian crisis in May, per WSLS. (Read more Virginia Tech stories.)