Albany's Damien Center target of possible LGBT hate crime

June 24, 2016 12:05 AM

ALBANY - “Horror. Just unbelievable sadness in my heart,” said Perry Junjulas, executive director of The Damien Center in Albany.

An LGBT flag hung by Albany's First Lutheran Church is now the center of a hate crime investigation by the F-B-I and local police says Albany Police Officer Steve Smith.

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“An LGBT flag that was out in front had been burned sometime between seven o'clock last night Wednesday and nine o'clock this morning,” Smith said.

The Damien Center serves people with HIV/Aids, including many in the LGBTQ community.

It has been leasing space from the church since its Albany location caught fire back in 2013.

“It truly is a knot in the stomach you know,” Junjulas said.  

Junjulas said many people still consider Aids to be a "gay disease," which could have influenced the vandalism.

“I don't think that there is any coincidence that this happened at the place where we're operating out of right now,” he said.

The flag-burning comes 11 days after the Orlando shooting targeting a gay night club.

It also comes a week after the Capital Area Council of Churches, run by Deborah Riitano led an interfaith vigil for the victims.

“It's unbelievable to me,” Riitano said. “I mean how much bloodshed do people need. Was Orlando not enough?”

Two flags have already been donated to the Damien Center since the old one was burned.

The center hopes to hang it soon as a show of solidarity and resilience.

Councilman Judd Krasher who is a member of the LGBT community, donated one of the flags, which was given to him by Romeo's Gifts Inc. in Albany.

“In light of what happened in Florida it's jarring,” Krasher said.

Despite his concerns Krasher says the LGBTQ community is strong.

“I have not seen fear in the community,” Krasher said. “What I've seen is resilience and defiance,” he said.

Junjulas, who is living with Aids himself, says this wouldn't be the first time the center was targeted.

He worries it won't be the last.

“It certainly heightened my awareness of what I need to do to make sure we stay safe, Junjulas said.”


Nia Hamm

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