A Rogue River woman who lost a home in the Almeda Fire was confronted by a local business owner last week for flying an LGBTQ pride flag on their own property.
In the late afternoon of Wednesday, May 17, Jessica VanDerslice (who prefers the pronoun “they”) had their front door open, enjoying the weather, when their preteen son said a man — later identified as Charles Messimer, the owner of Wood Chuck Tree Werks in Rogue River — was walking up the drive.
The exchange was captured on VanDerslice’s Ring security camera.
“Hey, can I help you?” VanDerslice asks him.
Messimer clears his throat.
“What makes you guys think it’s right to fly that flag” — he points at it — “in a conservative town?” he asks.
VanDerslice — who later said they were “very taken aback by the comment and the casualness of it” — tells him it’s their right as a community member. “Please get off my property before I call the police,” they say.
Messimer stands there, looking at VanDerslice.
“Call them all you want,” he replies. “It’s not acceptable anymore.”
He turns and slowly walks away.
When VanDerslice heads after him, he turns back and says, “That flag is not acceptable here.”
At that point, VanDerslice started recording him with a smartphone.
“And why exactly is it not acceptable?” they ask in the video.
“It’s a disgusting agenda,” he says, still walking toward his car.
“What agenda?” they answer. “You’re the one pushing your agenda, walking onto somebody else’s property.”
Messimer crosses the street, gets into his car, starts the engine. He tells them, “Get out of Rogue River,” and drives off — too fast for VanDerslice to catch his license plate.
When VanDerslice’s partner, David Zavala, got home, he urged them to contact the police. An officer with the Rogue River Police Department told VanDerslice that the visitor had not committed a crime but could be trespassed if identified.
VanDerslice posted the videos and snapshots of the man on their Facebook page and the Rogue River Oregon Facebook page, and left it at that.
“It started being shared like crazy,” they said.
On Friday, May 19, VanDerslice received a private message from a woman who had done business with Messimer and recognized him.
Meanwhile, a friend of VanDerslice contacted Brad Smith, a local freelance reporter who runs the progressive blog Rogue Free Press. Smith independently confirmed Messimer’s identity and called him.
As Smith reported in an online article, Messimer told him in a recorded conversation, “I want you guys to know that you will not make it out of this. You will not bring your toxicity into our community. I will make sure that you guys do not thrive here.”
It is unclear what Messimer is referring to. However, Smith reported that Messimer in a second conversation expressed his concerns about LGBTQ issues, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, socialism and so on.
Smith sent the recording to VanDerslice and to the police department.
VanDerslice also gave information to the department, which contacted Messimer and let him know he had been trespassed from VanDerslice’s property. If he shows up again, he can be arrested.
Police Chief Jim Williams confirmed to the Rogue Valley Times that the department had increased patrols in the area of VanDerslice’s home.
Afterward, VanDerslice talked with their children — ages 12, 6 and 4 — about bigotry.
And about gun safety; VanDerslice and Zavala have moved their secured firearm closer to the front door. “That was a really tough conversation,” VanDerslice said.
Originally from the Midwest, VanDerslice — who identifies as pansexual and nonbinary — said people have maligned their sexuality before.
“But never has somebody come onto my property, in front of my children, and told me I don’t belong in their town,” they said.
VanDerslice’s sexuality “drives my desire to fly the flag and to not back down when people want to use hate to try to tell me that I don’t belong here.
“But people fly flags all the time that have nothing to do with their sexuality — that’s just a way to show support for a community, a way to show support for love — and (Messimer would) have attacked me for the flag whether I was straight or not.”
The RV Times arranged to interview Messimer in person, but he did not arrive at the appointed time, and a follow-up call was not returned.
VanDerslice moved to the Rogue Valley from Kansas City, Missouri, about 14 years ago.
Their home on Northridge Terrace in Medford was one of about 2,500 residences destroyed in the Almeda Fire of September 2020. The family moved to Rogue River the next month.
“It was a blessing to find this home after the fire, and Rogue River felt like a place (where) we could heal and rebuild our community,” they said.
Their posting the videos attracted criticism from Messimer’s supporters, who defended his actions and disparaged VanDerslice for sharing it.
“Not just the initial event, but then the backlash that it drew online against us made me feel like we were no longer welcome here, and that we can never be welcome here,” they said, “and that hurt.”
VanDerslice said they felt less angry than determined to stand their ground, “to not be shooed away like an unwanted fly.”
The family has also received a flood of support.
“We’ve had flags sent to us from all over the country, people that have seen the story and want to help,” said VanDerslice, who plans to distribute them to others in town.
Locals have also stepped up, “saying, ‘If you need protection, if you need support, call us — we’ll be there,’” they said. “That’s a beautiful thing, you know? And so in some ways, I feel even more community than I did before.”
One local person donated a security camera. The family bought a third, as well as a no-trespassing sign.
The flag that Messimer objected to was a classic six-color rainbow flag. “It was very worn,” VanDerslice said. “We’d flown it for two years since we moved into this home.”
The couple has replaced it with a larger flag with black and brown stripes, as well as the trans rights symbol, to represent vulnerable populations in the LGBTQ community — people who VanDerslice believes should feel welcome in Rogue River.
“I’m quiet, I’m nice, I keep to myself, I take care of my children, I cook, I tend my garden,” they said. “I’m not your enemy.”
Kind of sad that in 2023 there are still intolerant and ignorant people living in plain site. I read somewhere that David was asked to run for local office. Please do as this town needs fresh air. We will definitely support you!
I would love to see a few dozen flags or symbols -or more! - flying in Rogue River today.
Jessica and David, just know that the larger Jackson County supports you and your bravery for wanting to stay in a community that has shown itself so many times to be a home of racism and bigotry. You are welcomed and cherished.
How could someone flying a flag of any color or symbol (aside from a swastika) affect someone else? Unless you're instigating some action, it's just wavin' in the wind. If you don't like it, don't look at it. Better yet, appreciate our diverse culture, and our freedom to showcase it.
You logically contradicted your own point. "Not-sees" are part of "our diverse culture" like it or not. Haha I couldn't even write the real word I meant due to censorship.
Jessica and David, Thank you for supporting our community. Since I moved to SO Oregon I have never felt safe. My wife is harassed driving down the street and we do not advertise because of safety issues here. So I say thanks you again for being stronger than I am and showing your support.
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