Not eight hours after damage from a pellet gun was discovered at Tulsa’s Equality Center early Monday, a man came into the lobby yelling profanities and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric at front-desk staff.
At least one person had fired several shots from a pellet gun at the entrance of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center about 12:20 a.m.
Police located 13 pellets that hit the front door and windows of the building at Fourth Street and Kenosha Avenue downtown, police spokesman Leland Ashley said.
Surveillance video shows a white four-door pickup drive west in front of the building. Several shots were fired from the vehicle.
The pellets did not penetrate the reinforced window, said Toby Jenkins, the center’s executive director. An employee discovered the damage later in the morning.
A neighboring property also was affected, but Jenkins said he believes the Equality Center was the shooter’s target because it received most of the shots.
Jenkins said the downtown building had never been subjected to a serious act of vandalism since Oklahomans for Equality moved in 12 years ago — until now.
Before the organization purchased the downtown property, it was based in several rental locations throughout the city, “and every one of those had been vandalized,” Jenkins said. “So we expected that to continue, but we’ve had 12 years of relative safety.”
And then, while staff, volunteers and patrons were still on edge, a man entered the Equality Center between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Monday and began yelling. The front desk crew had “buzzed him through, and he stepped in the door and just started cussing us out,” using abusive language and saying “I wish you would all die,” Jenkins said.
The man said he was a veteran who had “fought for your rights” and that he wished that he hadn’t, Jenkins continued.
“It was so brazen, I thought it was a joke,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t know him, but then I realized he was serious.”
Jenkins started moving toward the man, and he quickly left, but not before flipping off the staff as he drove away, Jenkins said.
This type of behavior from random people has happened at the center before, Jenkins said.
“They can’t hold in their bigot, and it just explodes on us like a volcano,” he said. “But what made it so awful is, we’re already super tense and nervous, and dealing with this, and not knowing really what does it mean, and then that catches us when we just began to calm down” after finding the damage to the front windows.
“The (shooting incident) made us mad and concerned, but that scared us to death,” Jenkins said
The organization is informing volunteers and program coordinators about the incident as a safety precaution.
Geoffrey Brewster, Oklahomans for Equality board president, said in a statement that “I am sickened, yet not surprised, by the bullet holes that now riddle the front of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center. They are the latest reminder of the deep-seated hatred some individuals have towards the LGBTQ community.”
Similar acts of vandalism recently have affected LGBTQ centers across the country. The Orlando Sentinel reported that vandals smashed a window at the Orlando Equality Florida office two weeks ago, and the window of another such center was cracked in New Jersey over the weekend, according to the Asbury Park Press.
“We’re getting reports like this from all over the country,” Jenkins said. “Gay community centers being vandalized; welcoming churches being vandalized; gay businesses being vandalized. Now it’s happened in Tulsa.”
Anyone with information may contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 918-596-COPS (2677), online at p3tips.com/918 or through the Tulsa Tips app, which can be downloaded from the Google Play or iTunes stores.