Nation breathes collective sigh of relief after gay American flag returned unscathed

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A kerfuffle at Middle Tennessee State University over a stolen flag ended with a whimper on Tuesday morning.

The flag is a mash-up the 50 stars spangling the U.S. flag and six rainbow bars associated with gay pride. Police recovered it — in good condition — from the thief and returned it to MT Lambda, a campus support group for gay, lesbian and transgender students, reports The Advocate.

The flag became a source of controversy on Middle Tennessee’s campus in Murfreesboro after MT Lambda hoisted it inside the main library on Sept. 30 in celebration of the group’s anniversary during LGBT History Month (October).

The theft occurred on Saturday. The alleged flag bandit is MTSU student Jacob Lisemby, according to The Daily News Journal. Lisemby is a junior majoring in organizational communication. The school’s website lists him as a student orientation assistant and vice president of Sigma Pi fraternity.

Lisemby faces a misdemeanor charge for theft under $500. His first court date is Nov. 25.

Members of MT Lambda are happy with the outcome.

“I could not have been caught more off guard when the officers walked into the room and handed it to me,” Joshua Rigsby, president of MT Lambda, told The Advocate. “I literally started laughing and crying at the same time and couldn’t believe I was actually looking at our flag. We never expected to see this flag again, let alone to get it back undamaged.”

Rigsby also noted that the group had used the flag in the past without fanfare.

“We’ve used this flag at many other events,” he told Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF. “We walk in homecoming with this flag every year and it is not something new.”

Incidentally, Rigsby, like Lisemby, is also majoring in organizational communication, notes The Advocate.

The theft happened after a number of people complained to the dean’s office, calling the flag an act of desecration. People also fired off emails to WTVF.

“This is just un-American and against the law. They removed red white and blue replaced with the rainbow,” one angry emailer wrote.

Officials at Middle Tennessee State told the CBS affiliate that they had confirmed that America had not somehow outlawed MT Lambda’s flag without telling anybody.

“We wanted just to make sure through legal counsel and through the attorney generals that this was properly, constitutionally respected and protected speech, and it is,” said MTSU spokesman Andrew Oppman.

Some students had no problem with the flag, according to WTVF.

“I see it as taking two artistic representations of two different things — government and gay rights — and combining them into one flag,” explained one student.

Other students observed a double standard at work.

“It’s not like you could go around hanging a flag that has a cross on it in the library,” asserted another student.

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