ORANGE PARK, Fla. — Matt McCary's lawn is lined with Pride flags. He did it to start conversation and celebrate Pride month, but it instead it sparked anger from one of his neighbors.
"To me this is just a pure act of hate, cruelty," McCary said as he re-watched surveillance video of his neighbor, James Oechsler, running over the flags with a golf cart.
"I'm an LGBT person, he might as well come out here and tried to run me over with his cart. It's a personal attack."
McCary and his husband called the Clay County Sheriffs Office. The two didn't want to press charges, just to be left alone.
He said after police left to go speak with Oechsler, the 75-year-old returned to McCary's home and ripped several flags out of the ground. McCary also said Oechsler yelled gay slurs at his McCary's parents, who live right next door.
Oechsler was arrested on Tuesday and is facing charge for three misdemeanors, including evidencing prejudice while committing offense. Misdemeanor with evidence of prejudice is a crime that is committed with prejudice based on race, color, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim. This charge could come with harsher penalties down the line, according to the Florida State Attorney's Office.
"You're red on both sides from getting slapped on both sides and turning the other cheek constantly... I'm not turning the other cheek anymore," McCary said.
McCary's flags create a bubble of happiness and pride, but also invite the unknown.
"Every day that they're out here, I worry. Every day that they're out here, there's sense of anxiety that our property is going to be damaged or somebody is going to come after us personally, physically."
However, he says it boils down to a matter of taking a stand.
"Making people aware that, hey, this stuff still happens," he explains. "The reason we put these flags out there is to draw awareness, so people are aware that we still have to fight for equal rights we still have to fight to push back against those who would not see us be treated equally."
Oechsler has been released from jail and is set to be arraigned on July 12.
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