LATTA, S.C. — When openly gay police chief Crystal Moore was fired by a mayor who condemned her “lifestyle” as “questionable,” she feared her two decade career in law enforcement in this town was over.
Then, this conservative, small town rebelled.
The people of Latta, who voted overwhelmingly for a state amendment banning gay marriage eight years ago, turned against the mayor, stripped him of his powers and the town council rehired Moore. They said her dedication to the town mattered more than her sexual orientation.
Residents remembered Moore’s civic spirit from as far back as 1989, when Hurricane Hugo tore through Latta. She was a high school student working part time as a police dispatcher, and helped cut downed tree limbs to clean up the debris. This February, when an ice storm crippled the town and left it without power for days, Moore piled her officers in her SUV and checked on as many people as she could.
Mayor Earl Bullard vehemently denied that he fired Moore because she was gay. Instead, he said she was dismissed for “sheer insubordination” during the three months he was her boss.
Moore said she hadn’t received a single reprimand during her career until Bullard presented her with seven the day she was fired in April. Word of her termination spread fast in this tobacco hub of about 1,400 people, just off Interstate 95. About two dozen people gathered at her office in support on the day she was let go.
The support for Moore grew when Town Councilman Jarett Taylor started secretly recording his conversations with the mayor, which is legal in South Carolina. Taylor said he learned not to trust the mayor because he would tell him something, and later deny he ever said it.
In a conversation released to reporters after Moore was fired, the mayor said: “I’d much rather have somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children, because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be.”
Bullard, who has avoided reporters for much of the past three months, told The Associated Press that was him on the tape. He offered no apologies.
“I don’t like the homosexual ways portrayed in front of children,” Bullard told AP by telephone Thursday. “You can’t explain to a 5-year-old why another child has two mommies or two daddies.”