WASHINGTON -- It's been a rough week for Crystal Moore. She got fired from her job as the police chief in Latta, S.C., despite a spotless 20-year record with the department, and she's not alone in believing the town's new mayor fired her because she's a lesbian. It's the first time she hasn't had a job since she was 9, her health insurance runs out at the end of the month and she doesn't know where her next paycheck will come from.
But if the firing weren't enough of a shock, something else unexpected happened: Her community -- a tiny conservative town of about 1,410 residents -- is rising to her defense and demanding that she get her job back.
Dozens of people have picketed outside town hall and held prayer vigils. Kids she met while patrolling at a school have told her they support her. Members of the town council voted to take action to go around Mayor Earl Bullard and try to reinstate her job. Her former team of officers calls her every day to lend their support. And teachers, preachers and counselors in town have all approached her to tell her she deserves her job back and that her sexual orientation should have nothing to do with her job.
"People call us the Bible Belt in the South, and to have so much support is awesome. I'm going to tell you, it's amazing," Moore told The Huffington Post. "The good Lord has really blessed me with a lot of family and friends."
Even people that Moore threw in jail say they want her back as the police chief.
"We just had a big case with a firearms place broken into, and even the people we investigated came up and hung their necks and said, 'You did your job. We respect you for that,'" she said. "They're saying, 'I'm helping Ms. Crystal to keep her job and she's the one who locked me up.'"
Moore's community has also turned to the Internet to build support for her. Residents created the Twitter hashtag #StandWithChiefMoore and launched petitions demanding that Moore get her job back and that Bullard's actions be investigated. Most notably, her supporters set up an online fundraising site to help Moore with living expenses and potential legal costs as she fights to return to her job. As of Tuesday afternoon, the site had raised $1,935.
"I have always worked. That's all I want to do is get back to work, support myself and work for my community," Moore said. "Here I am now, I have no income. I've never been in this predicament. One hundred percent of my life has been for my career. And here I am, struggling because one person does not like me personally. He snatched it away."
A request for comment from Bullard's office was not returned.
Bullard maintains he fired Moore after giving her seven reprimands on April 15. He alleges that she failed to maintain order and questioned authority, among other offenses. The reprimands were the first Moore ever received after 20 years on the job. What's more, members of the town council said Bullard, who became mayor in December, broke with protocol by not giving Moore a verbal or written warning for any wrongdoing and not discussing the matter with the council before taking action. On top of that, a council member produced a recorded phone call he recently had with the mayor in which Bullard went on a homophobic tirade about preferring to leave his children with a raging alcoholic over someone whose "lifestyle is questionable."
The reality is that even if Bullard said he fired Moore because of her sexual orientation, he would be allowed to do so. It's currently legal in 29 states -- including South Carolina -- to fire or harass someone at work for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. There's legislation in Congress that would ban such treatment of people, but the bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has stalled in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won't let it get a vote. It already passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
President Barack Obama also has the ability to ban such workplace discrimination among federal contractors, though he has yet to do anything on that front. If he did take action, it would extend protections to as many as 16 million workers.
Moore said she doesn't follow Washington politics much but has heard about ENDA and doesn't understand why it isn't moving through Congress.
"Are we back in the 1960s again?" she asked. "I hope something is done. I'd been at the department for 20 years and never had any problems. Then four months of harassment from Bullard. He micromanaged me, caused me so much stress, nitpicking, and there's nothing in our policy to help me. Not a thing. It's like, can you just tell him to leave me alone? I've got to do my job."
For now, Moore is holding her breath until June 24, when the town will vote on a referendum to switch its form of government to council-strong, mayor-weak, which is the opposite of its current form. Council members voted unanimously to put the referendum to a vote in response to Moore being fired. If it passes, the council will have the authority to reinstate her job.
Despite feeling "crushed" when hearing the recording of Bullard's anti-gay comments, Moore said one of the most heartening aspects of the ordeal is that people from all over the country have been leaving supportive messages on her Facebook page. Some have shared stories about being discriminated against at work for being gay and lamented that they didn't have the courage to fight to get their jobs back.
"It's just amazing. Some say, 'I didn't fight, I didn't do anything, I gave in and took a severance package.' They didn't think they had any options and just gave in," Moore said. "They want me to fight. That's what I want."
UPDATE: 8:30 a.m. -- The town council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to block the mayor from hiring a police chief replacement for the next two months, at which point the council hopes to put Moore back on the job.
WBTW News reported that dozens of residents attended the meeting and some gave emotional testimony about the need for Moore to be reinstated. Council member Jarrett Taylor told WBTW News the council has "all intentions of hiring Chief Moore back" if Latta residents vote in the June referendum to change the government's structure to council-strong, mayor-weak.
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