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Anchorage LGBT pride flag vandalized for third time in under a year

For the third time in less than a year, a rainbow pride flag flying outside a prominent Anchorage LGBT outreach organization was vandalized Tuesday morning.

The flag, which represents diversity within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, was found half burned outside Identity Inc.'s Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Fifth Avenue.

Identity Executive Director Drew Phoenix said the flag, which typically hangs over the building's entrance, was burned sometime between 7 p.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Tuesday.

He said it marked the third time since October that the flag was vandalized. Phoenix said the flag was cut up twice in October, shortly after a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the couples in the Hamby case, striking down Alaska's same-sex marriage ban.

Phoenix said he was upset and concerned by the flag burning Tuesday morning. The organization will eventually replace the flag, but will likely leave the burned one up for a few days "so people can see," he said.

Phoenix wasn't sure if the vandalism was spurred by the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could uphold or overturn same-sex marriage laws -- which is expected in the coming week -- or a recent LGBT awareness event at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson that was the target of online criticism.

"I think there's a teaching moment here," Phoenix said of the flag burning. "We think we live in an inclusive city and state, but the fact is hate crimes continue and it's a real problem."

City Ombudsman Darrel Hess spotted the burned flag at about 5:30 a.m. during his daily morning bike ride through downtown Anchorage, sharing several photos on Facebook.

Hess said it was disappointing to see the flag burned. He said he worried about what would have happened if someone working at the organization had walked out the door when the vandalism was occurring.

"We need to talk about (the vandalism), we need to discuss it and know that this type of ill does exist and as a community we need to say, 'this is not acceptable,' " he said.

Anchorage Police spokeswoman Anita Shell confirmed officers responded to incident. She said officers classified the crime as arson, which will be handled by the Anchorage Fire Department.

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