In October, the City Commission in Traverse City, MI unanimously passed an ordinance that made it illegal to fire or deny housing to someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Traverse City became the 18th city in that area of Michigan to pass such a law. But some local anti-gay activists mounted a vociferous campaign against the ordinance, and in particular, against City Commissioner Jim Carruthers, an openly gay man who introduced and advocated for the law. When it passed, Carruthers spoke out against the “violent, angry, ugly” e-mails he’d been receiving, but said “[t]hese to me are all reasons why we need to do this. There is so much hate and ignorance out there.”
Last week, a local anti-gay activist named Paul Nepote posted a video to his Facebook group, “Traverse City Opposing a Gay Agenda Ordinance,” showing men shooting a rifle at human-shaped targets, and added a comment: “I love this rifle!” In the wake of that posting, along with shocking violence against public officials in Arizona, Carruthers has gone public with deep concerns for his safety:
In an e-mail to his fellow city commissioners, local media, and the city police chief, Carruthers said:
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“Considering what has taken place, I am going on record to say (as I have in the past) I personally as a political leader feel threatened by the extreme rhetoric that is being espoused by anti-gay hate groups in Traverse City toward people such as myself.”
“These people are unstable and I fear bad will come from them in the future,” he said. “I fear more and more for my personal safety with such hateful people in our midst.”
Nepote’s Facebook group is littered with epithets against “homosexual activists” who “SHOULD STAY OUT OF TRAVERSE CITY.” One post in November featured a picture of Carruthers, his address, and a note from Nepote: “KNOW THE OPPOSITION – Homosexual Activist.” He also posted a video in which Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly appears to call for the murder of gay activists who crashed a church service in California.
On his group’s page, Nepote also repeatedly bashes M’Lynn Hartwell, an openly gay woman and former Traverse City Human Rights Commissioner. Hartwell reports that, in the past, during campaigns to enact the human rights ordinance and during other local gay rights campaigns, the “outside of her house was vandalized twice…and two years ago she returned from vacation to find a bullet hole in the wall of her home.”
Police in Traverse City say there’s nothing they can do about the seemingly insinuated violence on Traverse City Opposing a Gay Agenda Ordinance’s Facebook page. Contacted by the Michigan Messenger, Nepote said Carruthers is “full of shit”: “If somebody was going to shoot him he’d be dead years ago.”