The controversy surrounding the firing of Crystal Moore, 42, has
rallied the town of Latta and drawn the interest of national gay
rights groups who argue that her case highlights the need to outlaw
discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Moore, a 20-year veteran of the police force and chief for two
years, said her job record was clean until Mayor Earl Bullard issued
seven reprimands in one day and fired her on April 15.
The town council responded this week with a unanimous vote of
confidence in Moore and blocked the mayor from hiring a new chief
for 60 days. Residents rallied outside the town hall to show their
support and set up a "Stand With Chief Moore" fund.
Bullard, whose reprimands of the police chief included accusing her
of running background checks without proper authorization and
questioning the authority of a supervisor, said he could not discuss
why he let Moore go, but that it was not because she is a lesbian.
"Absolutely not... and if you do investigating, you will find that
that is not the case, I assure you," Bullard said in a phone
After Moore's firing, a recording surfaced in which the mayor talked
about "a questionable lifestyle."
"I'm not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and
let my child be aware," Bullard said on the recording, which was
posted on the website of WBTW-TV, a local station. "I don't have to
look at it, and I don't want my child around it."
Bullard defended the remarks as a general statement of his belief
that marriage should be between a man and a woman, adding that "I
never said I had an objection to gay people."
Though the South lags the rest of the country in backing gay rights,
the reaction in Latta shows that such support extends beyond urban
and liberal areas, said Ryan Wilson, executive director of South
Carolina Equality, an advocacy group.
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"Here's an example of an entire town where people don't care about
who she is or who she loves, they care about how she does her job,"
The case in Latta, a town of 1,400 residents near the North Carolina
border, has also drawn the attention of groups pushing for federal
and state laws to prevent workplace discrimination against lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been considered by
Congress for 20 years but never passed. South Carolina lawmakers
will not vote on a measure to prevent workplace discrimination on
the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity until next year
at the earliest.
Moore said she felt encouraged by support from residents and council
members. In 2011, the then-mayor attended her commitment ceremony
with her partner, Moore said.
She wants her job back, and the town council could vote to reinstate
her after they decide in June whether to switch from a strong-mayor
to a strong-council form of government.
"People are upset about this," said council member Brian Mason.
"After she was fired, people whose family members had been arrested
at some point came up and hugged her."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)
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