Big Paul and Little Paul have a problem: they live in Bryan, Ohio.
Tucked in the northwest corner of the state, just a few miles from Indiana and Michigan, Bryan has a population of just under 9000 people.
Small towns like Bryan are praised for being Real America, with basic values of neighborliness and civic responsibility. For LGBT folks, however, those same ethics can become the stuff of nightmares if neighborliness excludes those who are different, and civic responsibility includes punishing people who are openly Gay.
Bear-Baiting in Bryan
"Big Paul" and "Little Paul" are the nicknames of Paul Dennison and Paul LeBel, a couple of out-and-proud Bears that chose to live in Bryan so Big Paul could be closer to his infirm mother.
Big Paul and Little Paul thought their neighbors would be at least indifferent to them. But Tea Party America has changed the dynamic from peaceful coexistence to righteous confrontation with Gay people, no matter how civic-minded, friendly or congenial those Gay people might be.
Big Paul found this out in November 2009 while working out at the local YMCA. Without any prior warning, he found himself accosted in the locker room and accused of taking pictures of an off-duty deputy sheriff without consent. The officer confiscated his camera on the spot, warrant be damned. Big Paul was forced to endure a detailed grilling in a YMCA office, no legal representation and against his will.
The next day, police searched the Pauls’ apartment and took their shared computer. The Pauls report that the officers were looking for child porn. There were no pictures of the man who accused him in the first place, none on Big Paul’s phone or anywhere else. What they found was Little Paul’s collection of adult male erotica and some fuzzy locker room images of two men (taken and deleted at least 6 months earlier) in the computer’s trash.
What should have been a fine and some public service for the locker room photos on the computer became much more. Big Paul was sentenced to three months in jail, three years probation and required to undergo sex offender counseling, even though he was not convicted as a sex offender.
So why was Big Paul treated so harshly? The Pauls give some examples of what openly Gay people face in the town where Big Paul grew up:
"Once when we lived in an apartment complex here in Bryan, Little Paul was out in the front yard working on his flower garden," said Big Paul. "Some teenagers rode by on their bicycles and yelled, ’fag’ at him. That pissed me off. I called the cops, and they stopped by... I told them what happened but they said they couldn’t do anything about it, [the kids] were on a public sidewalk and were exercising their right to free speech. When I told them I’d go to their house and talk to their parents, the cops then told me they’d have to arrest me for trespassing."
The Pauls spoke of an openly Gay worker at a local restaurant who was fired when some of the clientele considered his presence unacceptable. The official explanation: he did not state his sexual orientation in his paperwork.
Appeals Judge to Ohio’s Sixth District, Stephen Yarborough, passed sentence in December 2010, four months after Big Paul lost his mother. Little Paul recounted the scene: "Yarbrough ruled Paul must serve 90 days in jail, undergo treatment as a sexual offender, serve 3 years probation, must not possess any pornography for three years... plus the requisite fines and court costs and an order to keep away from the plaintiffs and the YMCA. He also had to listen to Yarbrough pontificate about how Gay men should not go to the Young Men’s Christian Association ... when [the judge] thought of Paul’s case, he said all he could think about was his 4-year-old granddaughter and what would happen if someone took a picture of her at the YMCA and post it on the internet."
Monsters in the Closet
The problem for the Pauls is not so much being homosexual as it is being out of the closet. The YMCA is a great place, as the Village People tell us, to "hang out with all the boys." But the presence of an openly Gay man disturbs the undercurrent of same-sex encounters for dudes on the down-low. An openly Gay man is especially enticing yet threatening to public servants, be they firefighters, council members, clergy or police officers, who are scared shitless that others might find out they use the locker room as a haven away from wives where they can hook up with other guys.
One of the fears voiced by Paul’s accuser was that pictures could be posted on the internet. This is a legitimate concern in principle, since unauthorized images of one’s unclothed person online is a serious violation of privacy. But it would be especially excruciating for men trying to hide their own same-sex desires from public scrutiny, hence paranoia of what might happen, even when there was no evidence that it did. In too many Conservative minds, a homosexual man is a sex offender that just hasn’t been caught yet, a sinner who is proud of his sinfulness, who would molest grown men and children alike if given the chance - in other words, it is a career-breaker.
Public servants would be quick to throw an un-closeted man (who might out them) to the wolves in order to protect their own. The Pauls strongly suspect this was the case since no images were put online, neither was there any kiddie porn. Yet these possibilities were brought up anyway as reasons for the charges and for the severity of the sentencing, lack of evidence notwithstanding.
Big Paul transgressed the boundaries by taking any pictures in the locker room without permission. But the only hard evidence, coming out of a computer’s backup trash file from months before the supposed crime, does not warrant such excessive punishment. Such evidence does not excuse illegal search and seizure, nor does it make forced detention without legal representation okay.
Big Paul should not serve jail time simply because of what people fear he, as a gay man, might do to children..... or to closeted members of the YMCA workout facility.
Anyone who wants to contact Little Paul, please send him an email: email@example.com