A lesbian couple from Vonore, Monroe County, Tennessee, are afraid to return to the charred remains of their home after it was burned to the ground and the word “Queer” was spray painted on the side of their garage in what is being investigated as a potential hate crime.
Lesbian Couple Subjected to Threats and Intimidation
The couple in question, Carol Ann Stutte and partner Laura Stutte, were on a visit to Nashville when the incident happened on Saturday, September 4.
They were celebrating the anniversary of their having moved to the state.
Carol Strutte’s adult daughter from a previous marriage, would have been in the house at the time had she not been unwell and made other arrangements.
The couple feels they’re victims of a hate crime, and were targeted because they’re gay. They’ve been together for more than 15 years.
Carol Stutte has an adult daughter from a previous relationship who also lived with them.
At the time of the fire, they were in Nashville celebrating their fifth anniversary in Tennessee.
“My daughter was supposed to be here. She was sick,” Carol Stutte said. “I was grateful my baby girl didn’t get killed in this fire. She would have been trapped in the basement.”
The couple moved to Vonore from Oklahoma.
Carol Stutte says her partner is too afraid to come back to the property since the fire. She says they’ve been harassed all five years they’ve lived there by one neighbor.
The couple alleges that the neighbor had reportedly threatened to kill them and burn down their house. They filed a police complaint following the most recent threat in August, although the exact details of the complaint have not been released.
Detective Travis Jones, with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, has confirmed that the department is investigating the arson with the aid of the state Bomb and Arson Squad, that there are “people of interest” in the case – though he has not elaborated further – and that they are considering the possibility of the incident being a hate crime, though, again, this is as far as the investigation has gone in this regard and nothing has been proven.
The couple are now in a safe house while the investigation is being carried out, but the attack has left them so shaken that they are afraid to return to the remains of the house alone and are quoted as saying that, even though they would like to remain in the area, they will never rebuild on the same site.
Couple Left With Nothing Now Rely on Community’s Kindness
As to the couple’s possessions, they have been left with virtually nothing, with the scene being described as “a black hole”.
Yet, while they say they have been the target of prejudice, not just from the one neighbor but by several people in the area, The Daily Times reports how other members of the community have come together to help the couple:
Becky Lucas, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Maryville, said she is outraged by the Vonore arson.
“We are hopeful that the authorities will investigate it fully and that this couple will get justice,” she said Friday. “I think this happens every day to people in this community and many times they don’t speak up because they are afraid. Everybody deserves basic human rights.”
She also said she wants the Stuttes to know they have support in the area.
“We want to send a message to this couple and other couples like them — you do have many allies in this area,” Lucas said. “Many people in the community are just as outraged as I am.”
As such, PFLAG Maryville has sent out a call for donations on behalf of the couple, whereby the have requested women’s clothing, household items and dog food for the couple’s three dogs. The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is also collecting monetary donations on behalf of the couple.
For more information on how you can get involved in helping the couple, please click here to go to the PFLAG Maryville site.
Hat tip to Pam’s House Blend for this story.
Updates for this story will appear here.