Vt. LGBTQ+ Nonprofit Vows to Show Resilience After Vandal Smashes Entrance

A surveillance camera captured the vandal in the act

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Police in Burlington, Vermont are working to identify a vandal who ruined the glass entrance to an LGBTQ+ community center.

"I’m worried about the safety of not just me, but my team members and my community," said Mike Bensel, the executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont, shortly after the smashed glass was discovered.

Bensel said the Pride Center of Vermont learned early Tuesday morning someone threw a chunk of pavement through its front entrance. 

A security camera outside recorded the apparently left-handed vandal in the act, winding up for not one, but two tosses.

"The Pride Center is a physical representation of the LGBTQ+ community, so when we’re targeted, that has a ripple effect that reaches folks throughout the state," Bensel said.

Anyone who may recognize the vandal is urged to call the Burlington Police Department at 802-658-2704 with information that could help the investigation.

The vandalization follows an emotionally trying few weeks for the nonprofit and for the people it supports.

A transgender woman, Fern Feather, was murdered in Morristown, as NECN & NBC10 Boston reported earlier this month. 

Additionally, leaders from both sides of the political aisle have recently condemned hostile rhetoric, both local and national, that implied LGBTQ+ lawmakers and their political allies could be dangerous to children.

A Vermont man has pleaded not guilty in the stabbing death of a transgender woman, whom friends are remembering as kind and fun to be around.

Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, called Bensel Tuesday morning to express his concern about the incident, the executive director said.

Weinberger reiterated that support in a written statement.

"I was very troubled and angered to learn about the vandalism at the Pride Center of Vermont this morning," the mayor wrote. "Our City is using its full resources to investigate who committed this crime and why. Acts of hate have no place in Burlington."

The mayor went on to say Burlington must work to ensure it is a welcoming community for LGBTQ+ people.

"In the wake of the murder of Fern Feather in Morristown and other troubling incidents, living up to this goal is more important than ever," Weinberger wrote. "The City will remain committed to fighting hate and discrimination."

Neighbors of the Pride Center are now standing with the organization.

"It’s not fair, it’s not right — it’s cruel," Victoria Tamas, who works next door to the center, said of the vandal’s destructiveness.

WomenSafe, an anti-violence organization serving Addison County which partners with the Pride Center of Vermont on safety initiatives, brought flowers and a note reading “hate has no home here.”

"We want those folks to know we are also here for them, are going to support them, stand in solidarity and show this is not OK," Linnea Johnson of WomenSafe said of the vandalization to the Pride Center.

As the investigation continues, the nonprofit told NECN & NBC10 Boston it views the incident as a frustrating reminder of why its work is still vital, to improve health and safety and to build positive, joyful connections.

"I feel like this is an opportunity for us to show the world how resilient we can be," Bensel said.

The Pride Center of Vermont’s headquarters was closed on Tuesday, and an in-person support group meeting was canceled for Tuesday evening. Staff will work to assess the safety of the space in the coming days, the organization said.

The facility plans to reopen next week, according to leaders of the organization. All virtual events will continue as planned, the Pride Center said, and the SafeSpace Anti-Violence support line will remain available.

The organization added that an anonymous donor has already stepped up offering to help the property owner cover the costs of repairing the door.

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