North Carolina Gay Couple Burned Out of Home
A gay couple in North Carolina lost their home in what authorities deemed a suspicious fire. The men had been harassed and threatened for a year prior to the blaze, reported gay and lesbian news site WGLB on Feb. 6.
The couple lived in Clayton, NC, but were away when the Feb. 4 fire was called in at around 1:30 a.m., bringing firefighters to the scene. A neighbor described how the men had been targeted for vandalism and harassment for over a year leading up to the blaze. In one instance, they received hate mail; another time, their tires were slashed. At one point, vandals scrawled an anti-gay epithet on the house with a marker.
Neighborhood residents expressed the conviction that the blaze was set deliberately and targeted the men because they are gay. A number of other fires thought to be arson have taken place in the area, but the county sheriff, Steve Bizzell, opined that the blaze that destroyed the couple’s home was not related to those fires.
Several instances of suspicious fires around the country may be the work of anti-gay arsonists. As previously reported at EDGE, a Georgia man, Chris Staples, reportedly in his early 40s and in ill health, managed to escape the blaze that damaged his home on Jan. 23. Earlier that day, someone had thrown a rock through his window. Wrapped around the rock was a threatening letter containing a string of anti-gay slurs--"[S]ome of the meanest, hateful words that could come out of a person’s mouth," as Staples’ mother, Wanda Morris, described it.
If Staples was targeted for arson--and possible death--it was by someone who did not know him personally, according to local authorities. Staples has no known enemies.
"This is the first time I’ve dealt with anything of this nature in 16 years," said Capt. Shane Taylor of the county sheriff’s office. "I can’t believe anyone would have such hatred in their heart as to do somebody like that, especially when they don’t even know him."
More recently, a series of suspicious fires in San Francisco’s famously gay Castro district has residents worried that an anti-gay arsonist may be targeting the neighborhood. Three fires broke out in the space of about an hour in the pre-dawn of Feb. 3, all within an area of two blocks; one blaze was confined to a trashcan, but the other two fires involved buildings. One blaze blocked the entrance of an apartment building, forcing occupants to flee out the back; the structure was gutted, leaving 17 people homeless and bereft of their personal property.
Another blaze damaged a Victorian house that was in the process of being renovated. Though two people lived in an apartment in the structure, they were away at the time of the fire.
A day later, a fourth early-morning blaze erupted at another Castro residence. Neighbors put out the fire before it could spread.
Anti-gay arson is all too commonplace, both in the United States and elsewhere. Often, a blaze targeting a same-sex individual or family is preceded by lesser acts of harassment and vandalism. A same-sex male couple in Canada was apparently firebombed last October, losing their home in the ensuing blaze. The seeming hate crime unfolded against a national backdrop that saw gays excoriated by a television preacher and the work of a gay sculptor censored.
The men, a middle-aged couple who lived on Prince Edward Island, barely escaped the conflagration that resulted after a firebomb was hurled through their window early in the morning of Oct. 18, 2010. The home was "a total loss," an official report said. A week before the home was set alight, the men’s mailbox was burned.
Though local residents, including the Rev. Beth Johnston, spoke of the blaze as a "hate crime" that targeted the men because they are gay, the police professed not to have "gone down that road."
In New Zealand, an older lesbian couple endured anti-gay graffiti being scrawled on their car and home, as well as on a shed they used for their flower business. A week later, a blaze damaged the shed, forcing the women out of business, at least temporarily; the couple, both in their 60s, were not certain they would re-open.
Elsewhere in New Zealand, a family reportedly targeted a gay male couple who ran a bakery, hurling epithets at the men and allegedly vandalizing their bakery. The harassment eventually drove the men to close their shop. In this case, no arson was involved.