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The Sunshine State: gay couple's mobile home set on fire


Chris Roberton (left) and Paul Day on Thursday inspect damage to their mobile home from a fire and look over the epithet painted on their steps. (John Raoux/Sentinel)

“Between Tampa and Orlando, it’s just a void. It’s a different world. Very behind the times.”

— Paul Day, 25, a gay man torched out of his home by cowardly bigots, in Lakeland, FL.

“For the past six months, I’ve been saying, ‘I want to move; I want to move.’ I don’t want to be here anymore. It’s stressing me out.”

— Christopher Robertson, 23, Day’s partner

Love thy neighbor.

[UPDATE: I added some thoughts at the end, rather than posting a really long response in the comments.]

These young men had just completed three months of renovations on their home, at a cost of $15,000, and it all goes up in flames because of some hateful bigots. In this Orlando Sun-Sentinel article, it’s noted that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are on the rise in Florida, a higher percentage than ever before.

Paul Day and Christopher Robertson knew life as gay men in Polk County could be rough. They had been called names and taunted by neighborhood teens before. Day, 25, said he even had a mailbox riddled with shotgun pellets once when living near the Green Swamp in the north part of the county.

The couple never thought it would get so bad as Monday, when they returned home from errands to find their house in Kings Manor Mobile Home Park in Lakeland torched and the words “Die Fag” spray-painted on the front steps.

…Monday’s case is an arson with burglary, Lakeland Fire Department spokeswoman Cheryl Edwards said. But officials remain tight-lipped about the investigation.

The fire had “multiple points of origin,” Edwards said. Day said someone apparently poured a flammable substance all over the carpet and torched it. The home, which just had three months of renovations completed, is in ruins, Day said. The damage is estimated at $15,000. Many belongings, including electronics, were stolen.

Day and Robertson have called Polk County home for most of their lives. As early as high school, Day said he knew he was gay and identified himself openly. Problems with other people, though, have plagued him. He said he called the authorities three times for such incidents as rocks thrown at his home and a shot-riddled mailbox when living in north Polk County.

When Day moved to the mobile-home park a couple of years ago, he said it didn’t take long for trouble to begin. He said a group of teens and young adults sometimes taunted him as he checked his mail. “I tried to not associate with people here,” said Day, who works at an auto-parts store in Auburndale. “We’ve just tried to stay to ourselves.”

***

It is maddening. In the bigger scheme of things, gay people have the right to live anywhere in the freaking U.S. without having to worry about sh*t like this, just like anyone else. It’s sad we have to fight for this right. Of course it’s a different thing altogether to ask people to sacrifice their safety and “pursuit of happiness” to homestead in places gays are not wanted. This gay couple didn’t have the support of their neighbors; there was no one willing to stop the insults and rock-throwing from escalating.

Coming out is the most powerful thing gays can do, but it cannot be done in isolation; straight allies have to be willing to publicly defend their gay friends and acquaintances. The fear is that people are coming out in such numbers that are scaring these bigots. This is the kind of reaction gays receive when the homo-haters’ discomfort has reached a level where they have to make “statements” like this to send a message to recloset or get out.

The homophobes would love nothing more than to reclaim “God’s country”, and shuttle gays, brown people of any sort, and probably anyone of a religion other than fundamentalist Christianity off to distant areas of Blue. [At some point, they would probably admit to wanting to keep some of those immigrant browns available to perform services for them — but they should live in ethnic ghettos within convenient driving distance of gated Jesusland.]

At this point in gay rights history, the bigots are now content to cede the deep Blue enclaves to ethnic, religious and gay populations as “lost causes.” The real battlegrounds are the suburbs, rural areas and states that have not had to deal with large populations of diversity. I guess the small victory is that they don’t want the Blue back; the battle is over the Purple areas from tilting more Blue, and to stop any attempts to “corrupt” the deeply Red areas in any way.

One must also note that in prospective Jesusland, the bible-beaters would not only toss out openly gay folks, but the closeted ones, AND anyone that has engaged in same-sex acts — throw in those drunken frat boy “explorations”, prison homo-sex, all of it.

These folks want to cast a wide net, right? Their whole premise is that the conduct itself is evil and wrong, correct?

Let’s say, magically, every person that had participated in what they deem homosexual acts suddenly had a rainbow flag symbol appear on their foreheads, identifying them — I wonder what the actual remaining population of Jesusland would be if all those people had to get out — 20% of the original group?

An aside: you can see the Red State desperation in its full flower on the illegal immigration front. All the Red border states are rebelling against Chimpy on this (the Freepers are going apesh*t), and the GOP knows that this is the conflict within its party that threatens to destroy it, not the homo culture war.

The Repugs know that they cannot resolve the gulf between the capitalist pig faction of the GOP and the come-to-Jeebus/working class faction of the party. The Dems have failed to reclaim any of latter faction, and it’s the population that stands to lose the most as Bush’s “greed is good” base gets its legislative way.

Rove masterfully tied Dem hands by tossing gays out there as the demon to appeal to the God-fearing aspect of this population with great success. The lack of a coherent Dem response sealed the deal, and gays are still the whipping boy instead of the fat cats that are picking Joe-Six-Pack’s pocket and taking his job away.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding