Nearly four years ago I fulfilled a dream by moving to lovely Burlington, Vermont. What attracted me to the area were the progressive politics that existed in a magnificent rural setting. Usually places that look like Vermont have a backward mindset and the conservative policies of states like West Virginia or Wyoming.
Burlington didn’t disappoint, providing sweeping panoramic views, a strong arts scene, and intellectually stimulating people. However, I also learned that utopia doesn’t exist and bigoted, ignoramuses exist within the most liberal enclaves. Even the dreamy Green Mountain State has a backwoods where Children of the Pine, occasionally come out of the woodwork and slither into polite society with homophobic attitudes.
For example, there was that time on the banks of rural Lake Memphremagog where a handful of college kids called my husband and me “flamers.” They were taken aback when I rushed over to confront them and they failed to take up my challenge to repeat the insult to my face.
A year later, I was nearly attacked late at night while walking my dog, with the three perpetrators assuming I was gay because I owned a cute, little French bulldog. And, about a year later, we almost got into an altercation with three thugs who shouted a homophobic slur while we walked down Church Street, Burlington’s main retail drag. Once again, when directly confronted, the men didn’t seem quite so eager to back up their bold words.
Personally, I have found, without fail, that anti-gay bullies are cowards who aren’t particularly brave when they receive pushback. They only pick on LGBT people because they believe that they are easy targets that won’t fight back. However, they don’t understand that we are often the ultimate survivors who refuse to back down from challenging situations.
Personifying this fighting spirit are Barbara Supeno and Barbara Ernst. In 2004, they moved to their dream home on the edge of stunning Lake Champlain in bucolic Addison, Vermont, only to be welcomed by provincial town officials who allegedly tried to run them out of town.
On March 5, the couple’s attorney, David Bond, filed a complaint in Addison Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges a pervasive pattern of harassment and intimidation by Jeff Kauffman, Chair of the Select Board.
“It’s entirely based on their sexual orientation,” Bond told local TV station WPTZ. “Neighbors insulted them, made obscene gestures to them. There were dead animals left on their property.”
Kauffman just so happens to be pastor of Hope Community Church, which espouses a “literal Bible interpretation, and obedience to the Word of God.” Kauffman’s country church is also a member of the Green Mountain Baptist Association, which believes the following:
“Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography….As the least religious state in America, Vermont cries out for spiritual assistance. Can you hear the cry of her heart? Does it call to your own heart? Why not join our team of missionaries and his team of missionaries in reaching Vermont with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”
Whether Kauffman and his cronies interpreted “outreach” to include issuing baseless citations, levying unfair taxes, publishing defamatory statements, and allowing illegal encroachment by neighbors will be decided by the court. There is also the disturbing coincidence of the message “I ♥ FAGS” spray-painted in the town office’s parking lot, which has been visible for more than two years (I saw the graffiti with my own eyes.)
The complaint alleges that Rev. Kaufman used to maintain a website that said gay people must be punished because “they are disease-carrying fornicators” whose “unnatural and animalistic wickedness…must be rejected by true Christians.”
I personally visited “The Barbs” home and investigated their allegations. The friendly couple, who has been together for twenty-one years, has kept meticulous documentation of their alleged harassment, which will serve them well in court. However, I am deeply worried for their safety. Their scenic property is “Stephen King isolated,” which places them at potential risk for retaliation, or at least vulnerable to harassment from the Boss Hog-like town officials. Fortunately, they have received community support.
“At the RU12, Burlington’s LGBT Community Center, we devote significant resources to building safe communities in Vermont,” said Executive Director Kim Fountain. “It is our sincerest hope that Ms. Ernst and Ms. Supeno find the justice they deserve.”
The Barbs are sweet as Texas tea and as tough as nails. Having met them on several occasions, I can definitively say that, if the allegations are true, these bullies have met their match. The Green Mountain State is a special place to live because few people embrace intolerant Green Mountain Bible Association values. The idea that pastor Kauffman may have used his authority as a public figure to harass and discriminate is against everything that makes Vermont a land of dreams.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”