A gay couple who were harassed with homophobic magazine subscriptions found a way to put the abuse to good use with the help of their local community.
For five years, Massachusetts couple Bryan Furze and LeeMichael McLean endured a bizarre campaign of bigotry from an anonymous homophobe.
Around the time their son turned two, they began receiving a mysterious string of 30 magazine subscriptions ordered under fake, homophobic names, like “Michelle Fruitzey” and “Dick Likkors”.
“I think serving [in local government] was what caused the problem – if you want to call it a problem,” Mclean said in an interview with Milton Scene.
“I don’t know exactly the date the first issues started coming, but we were speaking at town meeting a lot, we were at the podium a lot, so we became very visible very quickly. We long suspected that was the reason somebody was harassing us.”
The couple alerted the police but had no leads to go on, until earlier this year, when the homophobe ordered “Michelle Fruitzey” a subscription to The Boston Globe.
Since the couple already had a subscription the Globe returned the order form, which included the perpetrator’s handwriting.
“Do you recognise this handwriting?” McLean asked his community on Facebook.
“I assume this is from the same person who signed my husband and I up for about 30 magazine subscriptions under the name ‘Dick Likkors,’ but joke is on them, what gay guy doesn’t want free issues of Vogue and Cosmopolitan?
“This one (fun new mash-up of our names while also calling us fruity… again, I own it) got returned to us because this idiot apparently thinks our house doesn’t already pay for journalism.”
The post happened to be spotted by a local resident with a knack for handwriting analysis, who made a public records request for nomination papers to compare voter’s signatures.
This kind stranger found a match – a neighbour who lived a few doors from the couple, and had shared hellos, waves, and casual conversation with them.
“There was never any outward hostility,” Furze told the Globe. They’d served in several town meetings with the individual and never thought of him as homophobic.
When confronted by the police the man apparently confessed. “He told the officer that he was motivated by our outspokenness and our opinions about Milton’s politics and Milton’s future,” Furze said. “I have some doubts about that.”
Police are now seeking a charge of criminal harassment against the man in Quincy district court. Furze and McLean might’ve been happy to leave the matter there, but their community had other ideas.
The hashtag “IamMichelleFruitzey” soon became a rallying cry in the Boston suburbs as people shared solidarity with the couple, sending them hundreds of messages of support online.
And besides being absolutely hilarious, the slogan has bolstered the couple’s critical fundraising campaign for a Gay Straight Alliance at two local schools.
Furze and McLean are now offering a t-shirt with the hashtag #IamMichelleFruitzey to anyone who donates, and the response was so overwhelming that they’ve beat their fundraising goal several times.
As of 15 June over $19,600 had been raised towards a $25,000 target, which Furze said would go towards endowing a lasting scholarship.
“For us, this is not really about broadcasting the bad. It’s about embracing the good and finding ways to blow it up into something bigger,” Furze told the Globe.
An added benefit, McLean said, is “we can own this slur, this name, and feel better about it”.