Have two Waterloo churches been targeted for vandalism because of their openness toward people of LGBTQ orientations? Their ministers think so.

“I think they targeted this church because we openly support the Pride flag,” says Rev. Jenn Hind.

Hind is the minister at Emmanuel United Church on Bridgeport Road.

Earlier this week, somebody spray-painted the church building with the phrase ‘The church shall remain holy’ and references to a passage in the Book of Romans.

 “This verse is always used to condemn homosexuality. We don’t tolerate that (condemnation). That’s not what we believe here,” Hind says.

Similar graffiti has been left at nearby Parkminster United Church on two recent occasions.

“We’re taking it seriously,” says Rev. Heather Power, a minister at that church.

“This is the second time within a month, so how can we not?”

Both churches consider themselves allies of the LGBTQ community, and display Pride flags outside their buildings. The graffiti at Emmanuel United Church was left next to a Pride flag.

“It appears, to me, to be a message that sends a message of fear and hate and intolerance,” Hind says.

“It’s frustrating – but under that there’s a sadness, that our society still needs a lot of education around the ideas of gender expression and gender identity.”

Data released by Statistics Canada this week shows that there were 19 hate crimes reported to Waterloo Regional Police in 2016, down from 51 the year before.

Local hate crime numbers fluctuate wildly from year to year. The region was dubbed Canada’s hate crime capital in 2011, when 62 were reported to police. The numbers bottomed out two years later, with only 14 reports.

Police say 13 of the 19 reports in 2016 were graffiti-related. They say they know other possible hate crimes may go unreported, and they want to hear from anyone who thinks they may be a victim.

The church vandalism cases are being investigated as possible hate crimes.

With reporting by Maleeha Sheikh