I met Brandon Bostian back in 2010, when he was just an unassuming Caltrain conductor and marriage equality activist. He asked to sit at my table at the cafeteria inside the San Francisco federal courthouse, where we were both watching the landmark trial that ultimately found California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
He was friendly, soft-spoken, and clearly passionate about the issue before the court. He was proud to tell me how he'd pursued his childhood dream and was, at the time, conducting trains up and down the California coast on the Caltrain system.
He told me about how he had moved from his college town in Missouri to the great gay mecca that is San Francisco, and we bonded over a shared sentiment about how, sometimes, big cities like San Francisco are just a little too much.
Over the next few days of the trial, we continued to develop a warm rapport, grabbing coffee together during breaks in the hearing and even getting lunch one day. I used a quote of Bostian's in my coverage of the landmark case for the paper I was working for at the time, Out Front Colorado.
By now, the country knows Bostian as the 32-year-old engineer driving the Amtrak train that derailed on the outskirts of Philadelphia this week, leaving eight dead and hundreds injured. He and I haven't spoken in over a year, and he hasn't responded to my emails or Facebook messages since the accident.
But I do believe it was an accident. I don't have any inside knowledge about the moments before the train derailed, and I don't have an answer for why the train was traveling at more than twice the posted speed limit as it went into the fateful turn.
I didn't know Bostian was involved in the derailment until a fellow journalist, who happened to be in San Francisco covering the Prop. 8 trial five years ago as well, asked me if I could connect them.
Since that request, Bostian's name has appeared all over the Internet. Outlets including CNN, BuzzFeed, and Newsweek have published stories with various iterations of "what we know about Brandon Bostian." Bostian's lawyer has said that the engineer suffered a concussion and lacerations to the head during the crash and can't remember what happened immediately before the train derailed. Aside from changing his Facebook profile photo to a black rectangle, Bostian has been silent on social media.
But social media hasn't been silent about Bostian. Friends and family have posted supportive messages on Bostian's Facebook wall, but outside of that, the cruel world of online commenters have seized on the engineer. Heavy.com collected some of the harshest, claiming that Bostian was a "diversity hire."
Self-described "debunker of frauds" and GotNews.com editor Charles C. Johnson, who takes credit for being the first to identify Bostian as the train's engineer, suggested that Bostian's sexual orientation may be connected to a mental illness. Bostian's lawyer has said his client had no health issues and was taking no medications.
Gays have a higher rate of mental illness than do straights. You decide if engineer's homosexuality is worth noting. I report it. #Amtrak188
— Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) May 13, 2015
By Thursday evening, Johnson was sharing articles on his site that claimed to show Bostian's "dick pics," along with homophobic tweets bearing messages like "Given that Bostian is a flaming homosexual, perhaps prison isn't the best remedy for his negligence in killing 8 people."
Fox News contributor Sandy Rios offered the same kind of gay-agenda conspiracy theory on her radio show Thursday on the antigay American Family Association's channel. Rios said she didn't believe Bostian's sexuality directly caused the crash, but that it's "it's an interesting part of the story, and I bet it will be edited out." Of course, she prefaced that statement by saying she wasn't blaming Bostian's sexuality for the crash, but went on to speculate that perhaps he, like Rios believes all gay people are, was "going through some confusion that has to do with the very core of who they are."
It seems like this should go without saying, but whatever caused the derailment — even if the National Transportation Safety Board rules it was solely Bostian's fault — his homosexuality didn't have anything to do with it. His lawyer contends that he wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that his cell phone was turned off, per Amtrak requirements.
Sometimes, terrible things happen to good people. Sometimes they happen to bad people. And sometimes they happen to gay people. The fact that Bostian was an out gay man and an equally outspoken supporter of marriage equality — as I personally witnessed — doesn't mean that the Amtrak train's derailment was an act of gay terrorism.
Bostian isn't even the first gay engineer to be helming a train that went off the rails with fatal consequences. The conductor of a Metrolink train that collided head-on with a freight train in California in 2008 was gay. In a much more important and relevant detail, he was also texting moments before the train crashed, killing 25 people.
But even that wasn't part of the "radical homosexual agenda." It was a tragic, negligent mistake that cost two dozen people their lives. Among the passengers on those trains, some were probably queer. There are undoubtedly members of our LGBT family among the friends and family of those killed in this Amtrak crash, too.
Perhaps we can let the loved ones of those eight people killed when Amtrak train 188 derailed this week mourn their friends and family without interjecting the additional pain of homophobic, fear-mongering conspiracy theories.
SUNNIVIE BRYDUM is the managing editor of The Advocate. Last year, she took Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner down the California coast from Los Angeles to San Diego.