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Flag Burning Leads to Arrest in Tabb
By Nancy E. Sheppard

FlagB imageNote to the reader: The pronoun "they/them/their” is used in place of "his/her” because it- is unknown the preferred pronoun of the subject of this article.

YORKTOWN – Mitchell Stauffer was charged after burning an American flag in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart located on George Washington Memorial Highway (Route 17) on July 4, 2019.

On the afternoon of Independence Day, Stauffer pulled up in front of the store, threw an American flag on the ground, lit it on fire, while screaming inaudible phrases. Stauffer says that the demonstration was to allow their voice to be heard. In an exclusive interview with 13 News (WVEC), Stauffer said, "I want my voice to be heard and my voice has been silenced by other people, other Americans… I identify as transfeminine.”

The Human Rights Campaign Organization has tracked eleven victims of the transgender community killed in 2019 alone, with twenty-six in 2018. They cite an increase in anti-transgender stigma, denial of opportunities, and other risk factors that have compounded the increase in violence towards the transgender community. Additionally, the state senate shot down a bill this past January that would have expanded hate crime protections to persons based on their disability, gender/sexual identity, and sexual orientation. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not have any laws that specifically protect residents from discrimination for housing, employment, healthcare, public accommodations, school bullying, access to education, and from "conversion therapy,” based on a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation.

Stauffer’s intention was just to start the conversation over the injustices that they feel have been carried out in the United States. However, this still led to their arrest. The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office insisted that Stauffer wasn’t arrested for burning the American flag (a right that is protected under the First Amendment), but because the language they used "evoked fear” in bystanders. "It's really irrelevant that a flag was used. He could've used a beach towel and the result would've been the same… As he was leaving, he yelled some obscenities which induced some fear for people standing there," said Sheriff Danny Diggs.

In the video of the incident that has been widely shared on social media, many were quick to judge Stauffer before actually hearing the frustration that lead to such a public demonstration.

Fortunately, no one was hurt as a result of the incident and, though Stauffer takes responsibility for their actions, they do no regret doing so. When 13 News (WVEC) asked Stauffer if they think their gender identity contributed to their actions, they said, "I think it has everything to do with what happened. It has everything to do with the way people treat each other in America."


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