LGBTQ+ group condemns hateful vandalism found in Wheaton park
Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in Wheaton have condemned homophobic vandalism found in a public park a month after the city's first large-scale display of Pride art adorned downtown businesses.
Wheaton police are investigating a spate of vandalism at Adams Park and Gary United Methodist Church across the street.
An unknown person or group of vandals used a black marker to write derogatory comments on several park benches and two exterior church walls, according to a city spokeswoman. Police believe the cases are related.
Photos circulating on social media over the weekend showed the vandalism defaced benches in the city-owned downtown park with anti-gay, profane messages.
Jacob Kniep, the founder of OUTspoken Leaders, an LGBTQ+ support and discussion group, said the vandalism was especially upsetting weeks after traditionally conservative Wheaton showed signs of progress with dozens of businesses decorating their storefronts in honor of Pride month in June. The city also issued a Pride proclamation.
"I am hoping it only represents a very small portion of the community," Kniep said of the vandalism. "And I really want to make sure that our love far outpowers their hate."
Kniep launched the #WheatonProud campaign to have businesses post stickers welcoming the LGBTQ+ community. The campaign grew into the window artwork for Pride.
"It's about making sure that the LGBT community knows that they've got a safe space," Kniep said. "And it hurts me knowing that they may not be feeling that after some of the actions that are being taken only a month after Pride month."
Kniep said some businesses who signed up for #WheatonProud and #GlenEllynProud also recently received hateful emails.
On Saturday, he went to Adams Park to ensure the messages had been removed. The benches had already been cleaned off when he arrived.
Kniep is encouraging anyone hurt by the vandalism to reach out to OUTspoken, which now runs weekly support groups online due to the pandemic.
Brooke Heavey, who works at Dry City Brew Works, a downtown brewery that's still displaying Pride art, joined Kniep in encouraging city officials to denounce the vandalism.
"No matter what, if it was directly in retaliation toward all of this amazing support from our community, or if it was just some kids in the park not knowing fully the impact of those words, it's hurtful because it was in a public space," Heavey said.
There are no suspect descriptions available, the city spokeswoman said in email. Anyone with information should call Wheaton police at (630) 260-2161.