BREAKING: Rainbow Flag Stolen from Tenn. Univ. Pride Exhibit Returned

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com October 08 2013 1:11 PM ET

A rainbow banner modeled on the American flag — with 50 stars on a blue rectangle set above rainbow stripes — has been recovered after being stolen Sunday from an LGBT History Month exhibit inside a campus library at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. 

The thief was caught by MTSU police this morning, and the flag was returned to MTSU's LGBT student group, MT Lambda, the group's president told The Advocate. The theft, which occurred after several complaints about the banner being a "desecration" of the American flag were filed with the dean's office and local media outlets, was allegedly committed by an MTSU student. The university's Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services is expected to investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary action against the accused student. 

"I could not have been caught more off guard when the officers walked into the room and handed [the flag] to me," MT Lambda's president, Joshua Rigsby, told The Advocate today. "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."

The flag was part of a display celebrating October as LGBT History Month and commemorating MT Lambda's 25th anniversary on the MTSU campus. The inclusive, registered student organization was founded in 1988, with reportedly no resistance from the administration, which recognized the students' desire to form an LGBT club as an issue of "academic freedom," according to Rigsby. The university's administration has been steadfast in its support of MT Lambda throughout this incident and for the entirety of its schoolwide LGBT Pride Month program, which includes notable speakers, panel discussions on gender and sexuality led by faculty, film screenings, the group's first-ever LGBT alumni dinner, and campuswide conversations on LGBT identities and issues. Several of the events coincide with the university's official Homecoming celebration, and MT Lambda will once again march in MTSU's Homecoming parade, proudly carrying the flag they've just had returned. 

"Both MTSU and the police department here [in Murfreesboro] have been nothing but helpful and supportive about what's been going on," says Rigsby, a 25-year-old gay senior majoring in organizational communication. "I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that they located the student who took it less than three days after it was stolen. MTSU is such an amazing university to be at. When this happened, we knew MTSU would have our back. The university's True Blue pledge is a monument to diversity and inclusion, nonviolence and honesty, and respect for your community. It's truly a beautiful day to be True Blue."