BRUNSWICK — An openly gay town councilor this week said she has received several homophobic email messages in the three weeks since she reported an anti-gay flyer was left on her car.
Councilor Kathy Wilson, who is 72 and has spent the majority of her life living in the Brunswick area, said the hate mail doesn’t scare her, but represents a setback in the progress both Maine and the nation have made toward its acceptance of LGBT Americans.
“I don’t think the hate is new, (but) I think the willingness to express it is back,” she said, describing the expressions of animosity toward gay people as the national political climate grows more toxic and polarizing.
On Sept. 11, Wilson attended a downtown 9/11 memorial service and returned to her car on Park Row to find a folded sheet of paper tucked under a windshield wiper with images equating the LGBT rainbow flag to the Communist hammer and sickle. It was unsigned, although it bore a cryptic logo displaying two rifles with “the Forest Brothers” written underneath.
More flyers – which contained varying conservative messages, though all bore the “the Forest Brothers” moniker – were also found inside a Burger King Sept. 6, police said.
On Sept. 15, four days after Wilson reported the flyer, police used surveillance footage to identify the person who placed the flyer on her car as a Brunswick resident.
The state attorney general’s office is investigating whether the man committed a crime when he placed the flyer on Wilson’s car, according to police, a determination that rests on whether he targeted her because she is gay.
In the meantime, more homophobic messages have been sent to Wilson’s Town Council email and even her home address.
Those messages, she said, minced no words about their anti-gay sentiments.
“Please spare me the whining,” an unsigned Sept. 15 email stated, after berating Wilson for reporting the incident to police. “You have every right to speak out in support of your lifestyle and I and others have every right to speak out against your lifestyle.”
Wilson said she has received at least three emails of this nature since Sept. 15.
More disturbingly, she said, an Idaho man sent a letter to her former home address – which is available on the town’s website because Wilson is an elected official – encouraging her to read a book he wrote that condemns homosexuality.
“(The book) is about as hateful as you get,” Wilson said, after looking it up online.
Wilson said she has also heard from the man who left the flyer on her car, who claimed he never meant to target her for her sexual orientation.
On Sept. 18, the man, who Wilson would not identify but said she knew as a familiar face around town, called her on the phone to apologize. He later came to her house to read a hand-written note expressing his remorse.
“He said he didn’t mean to target my car; he said he didn’t even see the rainbow stickers on it,” Wilson said in an interview later that day, adding that the man hugged her and told her he hadn’t slept since the police contacted him three days earlier.
“He believed himself to be just expressing his belief in being a conservative,” Wilson said, and that he denied belonging to groups like the KKK or neo-Nazis.
Wilson said the man violated a police order not to contact her in order to deliver the apology, but she later told police she agreed to meet with him.
She also told him that while he may not have intended any harm by placing the flyer on her car, the consequences of his actions have emboldened people who do mean her direct offense.
Asked if she felt threatened by the note, she said “It bothers me, but it doesn’t scare me. But I know a lot of people that would’ve been scared to death.”
In addition to the hate mail, Wilson said she’s received even more messages of support.
On Tuesday, she recalled growing up as a gay woman in Maine, and the discrimination and violence she and her fellow LGBT friends faced.
“I had friends that were beat up,” Wilson remembered, and one that she said was killed in the 1970s for cruising in Deering Oaks Park, in Portland.
Wilson has been verbally harassed and denied service at businesses, but in recent years, she said, “I’m not really afraid and I’m especially not afraid in Brunswick. We’ve come a long way and a lot of people who used to be angry at us are no longer angry.”
But since the election of President Donald Trump, she said, “permission seems to be out there” for increased bias and discrimination.
“There hasn’t been all that much (hate in Brunswick),” Wilson said. “But it’s very clear that people feel that they have a right to express it and that’s something that’s new again.”