Ridgefield reverend decries incident at church over Pride-themed flag

RIDGEFIELD — The rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is calling on the community to combat hatred after she was condemned by an individual over the church’s Pride-themed sign.

On the morning of Nov. 1, the Rev. Whitney Altopp was walking on the sidewalk between the church’s sanctuary and office building on Main Street when a man came up beside her inquiring about the rainbow sign. The man questioned why the church was promoting pride, but when Altopp tried to explain he hurled an expletive at her, she said.

“I know that there are people that don’t agree with that — I am not surprised by that,” she told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I was really surprised by the starting point of the conversation being an expletive.”

Altopp detailed the incident in a video message posted to Facebook on Monday. She responded by saying communities are strengthened when people accept each other’s differences, to which the man yelled back, “You’re pushing an agenda,” she said.

“I said, ‘I would like to make room for you too but you’re making this very hard,’ and then he hurled another expletive at me across his shoulder,” Altopp said in the video.

The rainbow sign, which reads “Celebrate Pride,” has been hanging on a row of bushes outside St. Stephen’s since June 2020. But this was the first time Altopp was personally confronted about it, she said, noting that she did not call the police.

The incident follows an unrelated string of recent LGBTQ+ intolerance in the area.

In April, a pride flag displayed on the fencing outside a Bethel coffee shop was burned, prompting a police investigation. And in June, Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe received a customer complaint regarding its Pride-themed ice cream flavor; the individual was critical of the offering, telling the shop not to promote the “lifestyle.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he was saddened by the incident at St. Stephen’s, but noted this problem is not exclusive to Ridgefield.

“I’ve personally brought up situations that have occurred that are not normal with the 18 municipalities in our (Council of Governments), and everyone’s on the same page,” he said. “How do we return to a friendly environment of civility and respect for one another?”

Altopp believes this starts by actively confronting hatred.

“As people have spoken with me about that incident, it has generated conversation about how to be intentional about interrupting hate,” she said. “We have to rehearse that in our own rooms, and become familiar with our words so when the moment surprises us — like it did me — we douse it so that something good can grow from the moment.”

The full comments from Altopp can be found on Facebook at https://bit.ly/2ZZMSE0.