Advocates for a gay family subjected to a sustained campaign of harassment in Arizona have gone online in frustration and generated a global response to the local police department.
The Arizona Republic reports on the plight of Felix Bermea and Roy Messerschmidt and their four foster children, who in the past four months have been targeted by 18 incidents that they believe are intended to drive them from the neighborhood. The family lives in Gilbert, which in 2005 ranked seventh in a survey of the most conservative cities in the United States by the nonpartisan Bay Area Center for Voting Research.
“The incidents include people knocking on doors and someone entering Bermea's house and scrawling derogatory words that Bermea believes were directed at his sexual orientation,” according to the Republic. “Bushes were set on fire at a nearby park and outside Bermea's front door. Genitals were drawn in chalk on a road near his driveway.”
Bermea also reported that the driver of an SUV approached his children while they were riding bicycles one night last month. The man exited his vehicle and ran toward them carrying what one child said looked like a gun, although it could have been a flashlight or a cell phone.
Gilbert police chief Tim Dorn said his team is doing everything possible to solve the crimes, although he acknowledged that authorities had been slow to connect the incidents as a pattern. The Anti-Defamation League maintains that without more evidence, it will be difficult to establish hate as the motivation for the crimes. Proof of hate as a motivating factor could bring a harsher penalty under Arizona law.
Supporters of the targeted family have taken to Facebook, where they set up a page called "Help Protect a Gay Couple in Arizona." The effort has resulted in emails to the Gilbert police department from Europe and Australia, and on Saturday, the Republic reports, about 50 people rallied in support of Bermea and Messerschmidt at Gilbert town hall.