Update on lesbian TN couple who were victims of arson and hate crime

Monday, February 28th, 2011   Share on Facebook   Share on Twitter

(Read to the bottom — there’s an ask there…)

We talked with Carol Ann Stutte on Saturday morning, learning more about the case and getting a sense of how the GetEQUAL community could help out — I can’t tell you how wonderful these women are…they’re amazing. Here’s the situation:

Carol Ann and Laura Stutte owned a beautiful home on a beautiful piece of land in rural Tennessee — outside of Knoxville. Together for 16 years with a grown daughter, these women had developed a community for themselves in the heart of a very, very red state.

Their next-door neighbor began threatening them, repeatedly making direct threats that she would burn their home, poison their dog, and kill the couple. Shortly after each of the threats, those things came to pass — their dog suddenly died of poisoning and their beautiful home had been reduced to ashes.

It gets worse. The house was burned down while Carol Ann and Laura were out of town, celebrating their anniversary. When they returned, their home was burned to the ground and the word “QUEERS” was spray-painted on their free-standing garage.

It gets even worse. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation deployed staff to the scene…four days after the fire and following two rainstorms that destroyed much of the arson evidence. After the men drank coffee, cracked jokes, and kept their investigation dog in the truck, Carol Ann asked if they were going to investigate. The response? “I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but we have more important things to do right now.”

And, believe it or not, it gets even worse. The Stuttes immediately filed a claim with their insurance company and the insurance company didn’t send a team of investigators until a week and a half after the fire. After initially honoring their claim for living expenses while the Stuttes waited on the investigation to take place, the insurance company — American National Property & Casualty Company — kicked them out of their rental home and told them they were on their own.

It’s been almost six months since the fire, and American National Property & Casualty Company will now no longer return calls from the Stuttes — and have made clear that they will not honor their homeowners policy. Last week, the company offered to pay $610.18 — yes, $610.18 — toward the living expenses for the couple, which are now over $5,000 for the past 6 months. And it’s clearly nowhere close to the $206,000 property claim and the $155,000 claim for personal items.

The Stuttes were hoping to follow the rules, resolve the situation peacefully, and just wait on this investigation to end — but it’s clear that American National Property & Casualty Company believe that lesbian lives are worth a small fraction of the value of straight lives. And the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation refuses to give any updates, preventing this from being designated as a hate crime…while their neighbor not only walks free, but has been sighted on the property repeatedly since the fire.

The Stuttes were recently forced to file a lawsuit against their neighbor while they live in hiding in another area of Tennessee, since this woman remains free. They’re suing the neighbor for damages — in the hopes that it forces the investigation to move forward and they can again return to their normal lives.

The Stuttes have reached out to GetEQUAL for help, and we’re determined to make it very difficult for American National Property & Casualty Company to conduct business until/unless they honor the Stuttes policy. We’re starting a campaign targeting the company, and we’ll periodically be asking you to take coordinated action in order to make things very difficult for this company. We don’t believe a lesbian home is worth less than a straight home — and we’ll make it clear to American National Property & Casualty Company that they have a lot of work ahead of them.

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If you’d like to make a donation to help the Stuttes out, please head here: http://knoxvillepridefest.com/2011/02/03/insulin/. They’ve raised enough money to live on for the past few months, but they’ve reached the end of that money — and their daughter is in need of a new insulin pump. This is clearly an immediate need.

Additionally, we’ll be hammering away at the insurance company in a variety of ways this week, both online and offline. Feel free to call them directly — their 24-hour customer service line is 1-800-333-2860. Word is that they have a prepared statement at the ready — be sure they read the whole thing, and feel free to ask questions. We’re completely happy with tying up their phone lines all day long!

And we have a petition running now that has over 15,000 signatures on it — you can find it here…please sign and encourage all your friends to sign. We’re petitioning all of the insurance company’s executive staff, plus every agent in the state of Tennessee!

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