Old Soul Collective store owner Jessica Stetson is shown with the Progress Pride Flag at her store in downtown Skowhegan on Monday. An identical flag, displayed in the window at the left, was torn away from a pole that was attached to outside of the Old Soul Collective building. Stetson received a threatening message Wednesday.  Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — The owner of a Skowhegan business received a threatening phone message Wednesday following publicity about her Progress Pride flag being vandalized and community support in response to the act.

Fearing for her safety, Jessica Stetson closed her Old Soul Collective store for at least a day and planned to relocate her family to a safe location.

Meanwhile, a Morning Sentinel reporter who wrote about the story also received derogatory and threatening emails, in which the person made bigoted statements and suggested minority groups and those who support them “should all be shot.”

Stetson and the newspaper reporter filed complaints Wednesday with the Skowhegan Police Department, which is investigating.

“I just felt really violated after the voicemail,” Stetson said Wednesday as she closed her shop. “I still do, and I have no idea if they also found my home address when they got my cellphone number. You know, I have three babies to protect, not to mention I work alone in a town where there are people who don’t want me there and clearly wish me harm. It’s upsetting.”

The owner of the vintage boutique said she was shocked when she received the message, which the caller had sent directly to her personal cellphone rather than the store’s phone, around 6:30 a.m.

Stetson made headlines this week after she discovered that the Progress Pride flag that had been hanging outside of her store since early springtime had been forcefully removed from her storefront when she arrived to the store Saturday. The flag pole was later found, damaged, behind the building. The flag was later found by a shopper down the street.

In response to the vandalism over the weekend, Stetson called police and then posted about the incident on her Facebook and Instagram accounts for the store. Within hours, members of the community stepped up and provide Stetson with a new flag as well as gathered others for local businesses to show their solidarity.

Pride Month is celebrated annually, in June, in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan, a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.

Christopher O’Connor, development director at EqualityMaine, said in a phone call Wednesday that when their organization talks to people who may have experienced an act of hate against them, they are encouraged to make a report of the situation with local police to make a record of the account.

However, O’Connor added that sometimes, some within the LGBTQ community who experience acts of hate against them do not feel safe reporting to police, because the history of the Stonewall moment “is rooted in action against police,” because during the movement, “police were taking action against LGBT people.”

Stetson has ordered 10 more Progress Pride flags for other businesses wishing to hang them at their storefronts. She’s expecting the flags to be delivered over the weekend. Other businesses throughout the community have also acquired flags.

Old Soul Collective store owner Jessica Stetson hangs a Progress Pride Flag on Monday in the front window of her downtown Skowhegan store. The flag, which was displayed outside the store, was damaged while being torn away from a pole that was attached to the outside of the Old Soul Collective building. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The Progress Pride flag is a newer version of the original Pride flag, which includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalized LGBTQ communities of color with the pink, light blue and white stripes from the Transgender Pride flag.

Under the Maine Civil Rights Act, a violation or indication of bias motivation is when “the perception of the victim or witness that the person, or person’s property, was selected because of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.”

Clues include written or spoken comments indicating a bias, where and when the incident happened, differences between the victim and perpetrator or involvement by an organized hate group.

“This is much more than a rainbow flag,” said O’Connor, of EqualityMaine. “It is about a community, (and what) the values of that community are. When people know that someone in their community has been threatened or feels unsafe, it then becomes the responsibility of the community to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK here; we are not going to tolerate this.'”

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