LGBTQ+ Rights Advocates Mourn California Store Owner Killed Over Pride Flag
LGBTQ+ rights advocates and allies have expressed heartbreak and outrage since Friday, when Laura "Lauri" Ann Carleton was fatally shot by a man who made disparaging comments about a pride flag displayed at Mag.Pi, her California clothing store.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said in a statement that deputies found Carleton "suffering from a gunshot wound" at her Cedar Glen shop Friday evening and emergency medical personnel pronounced her dead at the scene. The 66-year-old is survived by a husband and a blended family of nine children, according to her website.
After fleeing the scene on foot, an unnamed male suspect "armed with a handgun" died in "a lethal force encounter" with law enforcement, the sheriff's department said. "Through further investigation, detectives learned the suspect made several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that stood outside the store before shooting Carleton."
As The New York Timesreported Sunday:
Ms. Carleton's daughter Ari Carleton, 28, said that her mother was "fearless" and put the needs of others ahead of her own. Ms. Carleton had been a pillar in the community, she added.
When a rare blizzard struck the area this year, Ms. Carleton and her husband, Bort Carleton, converted her shop into a relief center.
"She opened up a free shop where she and my dad just gave out supplies to those in need who had been impacted by the storms," Ari Carleton said in a phone interview on Sunday, adding, "That really sums up who she was as a person."
Ms. Carleton preached "love, acceptance, and equality," her daughter said, and those values were reflected in her store, Mag.Pi, where she carried a collection of personally curated, high-quality, and ethically sourced clothes, and sometimes her own designs.
"I just want the world to remember her for who she was," added Ari Carleton. "And that she passed away in a place that she cherished, doing what she loved and defending something that was so important to her."
Carleton's daughter also noted that multiple people have removed the pride flag outside her mother's shop over the past two years.
Film and television director Paul Feig, whose work includes Bridesmaids and Freaks and Geeks, was a friend of Carleton. He explained on Instagram that she was killed by a "man who didn't like that she had a large pride flag hanging outside of her shop. He ripped it down and when she confronted him about it he shot and killed her."
"We are all devastated for her husband Bort and her family and the LGBTQ+ community, for whom Lauri was such a true ally," Feig said. "Her alleged murderer was later shot and killed by the San Bernardino police and so no longer poses a threat to the community. But this intolerance has to end. Anyone using hateful language against the LGBTQ+ community has to realize their words matter, that their words can inspire violence against innocent loving people. Let's all keep moving forward with tolerance and love. Let's not let Lauri's tragic death be in vain."
The shooting sparked several other tributes from local and national organizations as well as rights advocates across the country.
"Lauri did not identify as LGBTQ+, but spent her time helping and advocating for everyone in the community," Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ+ wrote on Facebook, describing Carleton as a friend and supporter. "She will be truly missed."
Sharing photographs of pride flags and flowers left outside her shop, Mountain Provisions Cooperative said in part:
In loving memory of our dear friend, mom to many, ally, organizer, entrepreneur, founding member, and soul of our co-op Lauri Carleton.
Lauri was a pillar in our community, an immovable force in her values for equality, love, and justice. If you knew Lauri you know she loved hard, laughed often, and nurtured and protected those she cared about. She was a force, she loved to crack jokes, and wanted to live as joyful of a life as possible. We will continue to stand for the values she so selflessly stood for. Her death will not be in vain.
"The tragic, targeted killing of Lauri over the Pride flag displayed at her Lake Arrowhead store was senseless and, unfortunately, part of a growing number of attacks on LGBTQ people and our allies," noted Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, which along with the Anti-Defamation League has tracked over 350 anti-LGBTQ+ threats and attacks this year.
"No one should feel unsafe or be attacked for who they are or for simply supporting the LGBTQ community," Ellis declared. "Lauri's murder is the latest example of how anti-LGBTQ hatred hurts everyone, whether they are LGBTQ or not. We know a supermajority of Americans support LGBTQ people, and this horrific act of violence is not indicative of American values."
National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen said Monday that "the rainbow flag is a symbol of freedom, love, and hope in the LGBTQ community. In a time when our people are being attacked with anti-LGBTQ laws, rhetoric, and violence around the country, allyship from our non-LGBTQ neighbors is a powerful declaration of love. It should not be dangerous to love your neighbors."
"This is, unfortunately, what we mean when we say that anti-LGBTQ extremism hurts all of us, whether you are LGBTQ or not. Schools lose their teachers. Cities and towns lose their doctors. Families lose their loved ones. Communities lose their friends and neighbors. All of us are harmed whether we realize it or not," the campaigner continued. "Our hearts are with Laura's family and friends, and the LGBTQ community of San Bernardino County."
Many mourners connected rising attacks on the LGBTQ+ community to right-wing media and MAGA Republicans—referring to members of the GOP who have rallied behind former President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan and policies.
"As attacks on LGBTQ+ rights have increased from the right-wing media and MAGA Republicans, so have hate crimes," the gun violence prevention group Giffords said on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Laura should still be here."
Education historian Diane Ravitch took aim at Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—one of Trump's challengers for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination—and Moms for Liberty, a group that opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum.
"Homophobic rhetoric by DeSantis and Moms 4 Liberty has deadly consequences. Hate kills," Ravitch wrote on X.
Congressional Equality Caucus Chair Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who is gay, also weighed in: "Hey GOP lawmakers. Want to know why all your rhetoric about cloth is dangerous? A woman was killed for displaying a pride flag as you fan the flames of hatred to get the votes of extremists. You should be ashamed. Blood is on your lips. Anti-woke is hate."
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom said: "This is absolutely horrific. A shop owner has been shot and killed by a man after he criticized the pride flag hanging outside her business. Lauri leaves behind her husband and nine children. This disgusting hate has no place in CA."
Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.
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