Tennessee community rallies for lesbian couple

Community rallies around lesbian couple, arson victims

By Chloé Morrison
October 10. 2010

A seeming act of hate has been followed by an outpouring of love that has overwhelmed an area family.

"Words don't even seem adequate," Carol Stutte said. "I want to give each and every person a hug. This love and support (we've received) is going to overshadow a few people's hate."

Carol Stutte and her partner, Laura Stutte, were recently victims of arson. The Vonore home was a complete loss — the only thing left standing was a detached garage with the word "queers" spray painted on the side.

Soon after the fire, Detective Travis Jones, with the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, said authorities weren't releasing many details about the fire — which happened Sept. 4 at about 10 p.m.

He did say that there were people of interest and that authorities were investigating the arson. Jones did not return calls Friday and Saturday seeking new information about the investigation.

Since the fire, community members, some churches and organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG, and the East Tennessee Equality Council, ETEC, have rallied around the couple.

Maryville PFLAG and Maryville College's Gay-Straight Alliance honored the Stutte family Thursday at McArthur Pavillion on the Maryville College Campus.

ETEC collected hundreds of donations from around the world and surprised the family with a check for more than $10,000.

PFLAG President Becky Lucas said that the Stuttes didn't know they were coming to such a large event to receive a check. The couple thought they were attending a small gathering where they might eat hotdogs around a fire pit and socialize.

"When 120 people started pouring in, they were just shocked and overwhelmed by the support and just the level of participation," Lucas said.
'Hanging in there'

Carol said the timing of the event couldn't have been more perfect. The self-described normally upbeat and positive woman was having a hard day after learning that insurance issues were forcing the family to relocate for the fourth time in about a month.

"Earlier that morning I found out we were moving again and I had been crying, thinking, 'Can't we just stay in one place,'" she said. "It had been a real down time. (The event) was such a wonderful boost of strength and energy to help us get through this."

Lucas also said area community members and organizations — such as Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and Knoxville Human Rights Group — have stepped up to support the family.

"No matter what I've asked for over the last several days, people have pulled through,” she said. Carol said she and her family, which includes her daughter, are “hanging in there” and “just keep hoping it will get better and better."

She said it is difficult to explain how it feels to have such support from the community.

"I can't describe it," she said. "I've always had the shoe on the other foot, where Laura and I have been blessed to help other. To have it turned around, it brings you to tears."

Carol said PFLAG members have invited her family over for dinner and call to check in on them.

"That's been really nice — sitting around with a real, sweet, supportive group," she said.
Beyond reactionary

The Maryville PFLAG organization kicked off only a few days before the fire at the Stutte's home.

"We threw ourselves into helping," Lucas said. "Now we get to the business of supporting education in this community in ways that, hopefully, aren't reactionary."

Lucas mentioned a series of suicides involving gay teens that have occurred in the past couple of months, and said she hopes the local group can maintain momentum and advocate for love, acceptance and tolerance in the area.

"We want to support people," she said. "It was a beautiful moment Thursday night — we were talking about how this community has come out in strong numbers to say we will not tolerate hate in this community. We had people applaud. There were young people in the audience struggling with coming out ... it was an emotional time. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing."

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