Monday, March 10, 2014

Odd Gay Discrimination Lawsuit Roils Small Vermont Town

Here where I live in Vermont, people are pretty good dealing with gay people like me and my husband Jeff.
From WPTZ: The two Barbaras involved in
an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the
town of Addison, Vermont.  

I rarely hear people act in a bigoted way toward us, and while I'm sure some people don't like our orientation, we don't hear from them often.

We know a few homophobes could make things ugly for us, but so far, knock on wood, things are pretty good.

But it can get ugly even in gay-friendly Vermont.  A sad, surprising lawsuit, filed last week, is a case in point, if the allegations in the lawsuit prove true.

The couple, Barbara Ernst and Barbara Supeno, live in the incredibly scenic, little town of Addison, Vermont.

The area is gorgeous. It's in the southern Champlain Valley, with a landscape of rolling farmlands and patches of woods. The Green Mountains rise to the east, the Adirondacks to the west. In between is Lake Champlain, and the Barbaras, as their friends call them have a place on the shore of the lake.

It sounds absolutely idyllic, but for them, not really, apparently.

According to television station WPTZ in Plattsburgh, N.Y/Burlington, Vermont, the Barbaras have filed a lawsuit against some of their neighbors and some town officials, saying there's been a concerted effort to drive them out of town because they are gay. 

The couple's attorney, David Bond, said some neighbors, and town leadership are trying to run them out of town.

According to WPTZ:

"It's entirely based on their sexual orientation," Bond said. "Neighbors insulted them, made obscene gestures to them. There were dead animals left on their property.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Bond claims town leadership tried to push the women out of town."

Part of the problem might be that the chairman of the town selectboard is Jeff Kaufmann. (In small Vermont towns, the chairman of the selectboard is kind of like the position of mayor) Kaufmann is also Addison's zoning and planning administrator, which is the go-to guy to get a permit to say, add a porch onto the house, or build a fence or a handicapped accessibility ramp.

Kaufmann is also a Baptist minister. Some Baptist ministers are pretty hostile toward gay people, but I don't know if Kaufmann is. He declined to comment on the lawsuit, according to WPTZ and other media sources.

In any event, a lot of people might be surprised to see such a lawsuit come out of Vermont.

The state has a reputation as being quite liberal, and has been in the forefront of granting gays rights such as marriage and anti-discrimination laws.

But, like everywhere, Vermont has subsets of religious evangelicals, closed minded souls and a scattering of simple, homophobic bigots.

Life in Vermont for the LBGT community, then, isn't always a Nirvana of acceptance good friendly vibes.

Most Vermont towns are small.  They often have cliques, and some of those cliques basically run everything in town.  And it's amazing what damage or disruption a clique in a small Vermont village can cause if said group is incompetent, stupid, mean-spirited, ignorant or comprised of bullies.

That kind of ridiculousness doesn't happen too, too often, but it does happen.

And that might be what's going on with the Barbaras of Addison.

I don't know the selectboard or zoning administrators in Addison. I don't know whether this lawsuit has merit. We'll find that out eventually. Part of it could be the Barbaras' personalities somehow rubbed people in Addison the wrong way, that kind of thing happens.

Then again, the Barbaras might be the sweetest people in the world, and some people in the town of Addison are homophobic trolls.  Given the allegations in the Barbaras' lawsuit, homophobic trolls in Addison seem like they might be the culprits.

Mere personal dislike of the Barbaras probably wouldn't lead to the following, as alleged in the lawsuit:

  • The town wouldn't response to grievances they filed about the neighbors' harassment.
  • The Barbaras tried to apply for a permit to install a handicap ramp for Supreno's mother. The couple need to get the permit to avoid a $100 fine, but the town clerk refused to accept the application.
  • A weird letter, written by someone who is grammatically and spelling challenged,  circulated in town that said the Barbaras are scam artists and that they pretended to be nice, involved people to cover up their "devious and vicious behavior." 
  • An attorney got a weird letter that was purported to be from the Barbaras (it wasn't) that said the couple love screwing around with lawyers by obtaining attorney's services, then never paying up.

  • The couple needed to have a hearing to get permission to put up a fence around their property to fend off their offensive neighbors. Two public hearings were held regarding the fence, but nobody from the town bothered to tell the Barbaras when and where the hearings were. 

So the bottom line is, homophobia ain't dead, and bigots find ways around anti-discrimination laws, and if this lawsuit has merit, there goes your proof.

The LBGT community has made lots of strides toward equality, but it'll take a lot more work to change everybody's minds.

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