Someone set fire to several rainbow flags on the family’s property near Dallas on June 2. But, as the family refuses to give up, the rural community is showing them great kindness, and the police chief is devoting significant resources to finding the perpetrator.
Keith Dowler, 51, and Terry Garner, 54, knew they had to make trade-offs to live in Corsicana and commute to Dallas. However, the couple wanted to give their youngest daughter, Gabriella, all the benefits of growing up in a small town.
They knew being gay would raise eyebrows. Garner says heads turned when people saw the couple holding hands with their 8-year-old daughter when they moved to the town four years ago.
Though they had never flown a Pride flag together, he says they frequently decorate their balcony with political messages.
“We moved here from New Orleans, where people use their balconies in many different ways,” Garner says. “So we’ve ordered and flown banners for Beto [O’Rourke] or Joe Biden and Kamala Harris or ‘Her Body, Her Choice.’”
Last year, when Gabriella asked for rainbow colors (she’s just a girl who likes rainbows), the dads ordered “everything under the rainbow,” Garner tells The Advocate.
The couple wanted to represent the entire LGBTQ+ community in this year’s rainbow colors.
“So we found one [flag] for the leather guys, one for lesbians, one for trans, one for twinks,” he says, “and the new Pride flag is in the middle.”
After decorating the house on June 1, they took a short vacation to a water park with Gabriella just a few hours away. But their holiday ended when shortly before 5 a.m. the following day, when Garner received a call from Corsicana 911, telling him they needed to connect him with a police officer.
After the officer informed the family that someone had burned their Pride flags, they decided to return home.
Courtesy Keith Dowler and Terry Garner
“In the truck on the way home, Keith was ordering more Pride flags because we’re not going to give up, OK,” Garner says. “Then we saw the perfect banner to go with them and ordered it too.”
That banner reads, “Love Always Wins.” Garner says it was the perfect response to the criminal’s hatred.
In the wake of the mean-spirited attack, the men choose to focus on the love they have received from their community.
Corsicana City Councilwoman Susan Hale regards the family as friends. As soon as she heard of the vandalism, she posted about it on her Facebook page.
“Corsicana, WE are better than this,” she wrote, outraged. “This happened at my friends’ house last night while they were out of town. Burning their pride flags on their front doorstep?!?!” Nearly 1,000 people shared, liked, and commented on the post.
A lot of other locals are enraged at the display of such hatred. Many were ashamed of their town and offered ways to support the family, with some opening their wallets. Hale says residents donated more than $1,300. It will be given as a reward for information that leads to arrests.
Hale admits her impulse was to be mad, but the family’s insistence on love changed her perspective.
“It was a big change for me to go from being mad to trying to use this as a learning opportunity the way Keith and Terry want it to be,” Hale says.
She is frustrated by the incident’s negative message about the town. “This isn’t what our community truly is, and I made the post,” she says.
Unlike many conservative areas, Hale says, her town is accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
“The overwhelming show of support makes me proud to live in this town,” she says. “And even though some people here don’t agree [politically], they’re still supportive.”
Residents have come to meet the couple and their family, and some have donated or displayed rainbow flags.
“It’s been really amazing having the support of the community like this and meeting new friends along the way,” Garner says.
Courtesy Keith Dowler and Terry Garner
Corsicana Police Chief Robert Johnson says the positive way the community has embraced the family gives him chills.
“In today’s era you never know how a community is going to react to anything,” Johnson tells The Advocate. “It broke my heart, because you hate to see this kind of thing happen in your community.”
He says that one can’t help but like the family. “Keith, Terry, and Gabriella have got a sense of community and belonging and are just wonderful people,” the chief says.
Johnson acknowledges that not everyone is supportive. “We have a very, very small percentage of people who are ignorant,” he says. “But they get shut down pretty quick.”
Johnson asserts that everyone seeks the same things in life despite their differences, and he believes in “3 percent warrior” policing and “97 percent bridge-building and community relations.”
In his view, everyone, regardless of their religion, sexual orientation, or race, should be treated equally.
A few days ago, someone again damaged Pride flags at the property, says the veteran chief. As a result, he has dedicated significant resources to finding the perpetrators.
Corsicana, he says, has no place for hate, and his department is committed to solving the crime through detectives and making everyone feel welcome by asking, “How are you and how can I help?” he says.
Johnson and Hale say that the town exemplifies how people can live together respectfully and supportively. Both say they have a lot of respect for how the Garner and Dowler are handling a terrible situation.
They “took something really tragic, and they’re turning it into something positive,” Johnson says. “It’s wonderful to see the community stand behind them like that.”
Hale adds, “It is great for our community to show Terry and Keith that we love you for who you are.”
Garner says that if the perpetrator returns, the couple will replace whatever flags the person destroys.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Corsicana Police Department at (903) 654-4903 or via the department’s Facebook page.