Charleston Pride flag (copy) (copy)

An LGBT pride flag is carried during a Charleston Pride event in 2018 in Charleston. Charleston police are investigating whether a recent burning of a similar flag was vandalism or a hate crime. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Charleston police are trying to determine whether the burning of a rainbow flag in a West Ashley neighborhood was an act of vandalism or a hate crime.

A multicolored flag commonly associated with LGBTQ pride was found blackened and charred in the driveway of a home on Sunday morning in the Shadowmoss neighborhood. 

Police spokesman Charles Francis said Tuesday the banner had been flying on a flagpole in the front of the home for about three months when the incident occurred. Francis said the family is a heterosexual couple with three kids.

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

If the flag burning is found to be a hate crime by the Charleston Police Department, it will be the first such investigation since members of Charleston City Council unanimously passed a hate crime ordinance in November.

The local law makes it a crime for anyone to intimidate someone "in whole or in part because of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, or national origin." 

If charged, a person could face 30 days in jail and pay a $500 fine.

When asked if the language of the ordinance added any complexity to the ongoing investigation, Francis told The Post and Courier, "I know it doesn't."

News of the flag burning was first shared in the West Ashley United Facebook group Sunday morning, about 30 minutes after police said the flag was found by the family.

Attempts to reach the family for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

In response to the flag burning, the Alliance For Full Acceptance announced it is offering flags to community members who wished to display it in solidarity with both the affected family and in support of the larger LGBTQ community.

AFFA Executive Director Chase Glenn said more than 50 flags had been given out as of Tuesday afternoon.

"Whenever an incident like this happens, it can really kind of get into the psyche of the LGBTQ community just knowing that this sort of thing still exists and still happened," Glenn said. "But to know the incident is being taken seriously by the police is very comforting."

The city's hate crime ordinance was passed after a transgender woman was assaulted by a man in a parking garage on Ann Street in August, and after another man threw bricks into the windows and doors at a downtown thrift store operated by We Are Family, South Carolina's only resource center for LGBTQ youth.

Francis said to date no one has been charged under the city's hate crime ordinance.

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Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.