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The reluctant activist, and a S.C. town that fought back for their gay police chief

Monday, July 14, 2014
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Since the story made headlines, Bullard said he had received a stack of hate mail that was “probably an inch-and-a-half thick.”

Within days of Moore’s termination, the town council passed a vote of confidence in her. They also set up an election that would strip the mayor of his power and give them more authority, including the ability to hire the police chief.

Crystal Moore

Mayor Earl BullardWBTW-TV

Mayor Earl Bullard

Moore, who played softball at Latta High School, walked up and down the streets for days before the vote, explaining her side of the story and calling for change. Last month, 69 percent of 475 voters approved of taking the mayor’s power away. Now essentially a figurehead, it’s not clear what he is going to do next. He ran unopposed in 2013 and still has three years left on his term.

When Moore returned to work June 30, people honked their car horns and gave her thumbs up as she drove around in her police SUV, according to television reports. When an AP reporter rode around with her recently, nearly everyone waved as she drove by.

“Crystal is a good chief and she loves this town,” said Taylor, the councilman. “It made me proud of my town to see everybody come out for her the way they did.”

Latta is a blink-and-you-miss-it town that started as a train depot and grew into a tobacco hub. Many people pass it on their way to Myrtle Beach, which is about 50 miles away. The only rainbow in town is on the Carolina Kidz daycare center.

Moore’s firing turned her into an unlikely activist. Before, she would bring her partner to civic festivals, but avoided gay pride events because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

Now she travels about once a week to talk to gay groups and encourage laws to stop discrimination against homosexuals. South Carolina does not have a statewide ban on firing people because of their sexual orientation.

“I think things are going to change, like they did in the civil rights movement,” Moore said.

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State unemployment officials sided with Moore, voting she was fired without cause and eligible for back pay and benefits for the two months she didn’t have a job.

The fight left Moore with nearly $20,000 in legal bills. About $8,000 has been pledged from people through a Facebook site, but that still leaves a lot of debt for someone who makes less than $40,000 a year running a 10-officer department.

So the town is arranging a yet-to-be determined fundraiser, Moore said.

“It’s just remarkable,” she said. “I can’t ever thank this place enough.”

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