“Love thy neighbor as thyself” — it is one of the most well-known verses in the Christian Bible. Now you have a chance to put that Scripture into action and help a lesbian couple in Vonore, Tenn.
The evening of Sept. 4, Carol Ann and Laura Stutte had gone into Nashville for dinner to celebrate the fifth anniversary of leaving Oklahoma to move into what they called their “dream home” just outside Vonore. But then they got the call from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office telling them their dream was going up in smoke: Their house was on fire.
As they drove up to the smoldering remains of their home, they saw the insult that had been heaped on top of injury: Someone had painted the word “Queers” in big, black letters across the white wall of their detached garage, which had not been destroyed by the fire.
The two women believe that the fire was the latest — and worst — in a string of anti-gay incidents that have plagued them since shortly after they moved into the house, things like having nails strewn across their driveway and the lug nuts on their boat trailer loosened. Plus, Carol Ann told KnoxNews.com, there were the threats and insults from a neighbor who once told them this “joke”: What’s better than a dead queer? Two dead queers.
The neighbor, Carol Ann said, had also told them she would burn their house down.
For five years, Carol Ann said she and Laura chose to just “turn the other cheek” and try to “keep the peace.” But in August, they reached a breaking point and reported the ongoing harassment and vandalism to the sheriff’s department. (Go to KnoxNews.com to see video of the two women talking about the fire.)
Sheriff Bill Bivens said his department has not determined whether the fire was a hate crime, but is definitely investigating the possibility. The Tennessee Bomb and Arson Investigative is also looking into the fire.
Carol Ann, a 47-year-old landscaper, and Laura, a 48-year-old nurse, have said they will never rebuild on that same site, and are too afraid to return to Vonore. For now, they are staying in a safe house at an undisclosed location. Carol Ann’s 26-year-old daughter, Kimberly Holloway, had been living with them at the home in Vonore. She is now staying at a separate safe house location.
For several days after the fire, the Stuttes didn’t talk to anyone about what had happened. When they finally did go public, the community responded. A special fund has been set up for them at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville (yes, that is the same church where a man opened fire during a children’s production of “Annie” back in 2008 because he was angry over the church’s liberal bent). Ben Byers with Tennessee Equality Project’s Knoxville committee said a benefit concert is planned, and the Maryville chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is accepting contributions of clothing and toiletries for the women and dog food for their three dogs who survived the fire.
If you want to help, you can contact either the church or the PFLAG chapter. If you want to send a message of support, you can do that at the “We Support The Stutte Family” Facebook page.