Watertown meeting on gay harassment draws both supporters and skeptics

A town meeting regarding anti-gay harassment of a Watertown family drew approximately 100 people Sept. 10. The gathering, sponsored by the GLBT advocacy agency OutFront Minnesota, was organized after Watertown residents Brian Carlson and Robert Protomaster complained that they and their three sons were the targets of increasingly hostile anti-gay verbal harassment and vandalism.

Protomaster, accompanied by his family, told the crowd assembled in the Watertown Elementary School auditorium that he was no longer willing to let his children leave the house unaccompanied for fear that they'd be harassed. He also said that in the days leading up to the meeting someone had taped a note bearing the word "faggot" on the door of the family's residence. The home had also been the target of an attempted break-in, he said.

Participants responded with both support and reservation. A former state legislator and Watertown mayor reminded the crowd of the need for "moral judgment." Another townsperson indicated that she was shocked to hear of the harassment and pledged her support for the family. "Sometimes it's hard, even when you have a good heart, to show your support for people in this community," said another woman.

The event also drew representatives from the U.S. attorney's office and the state attorney general's office, as well as Carver County officials.

"I was disappointed that a lot of the town boycotted the meeting," Protomaster said after the meeting. "The mayor didn't show up, only one city council member came." He said he believed many people had stayed away for fear that they would be harassed or attacked.

Still, Protomaster said, he was heartened to see the support of other gay people living in the area. He also said some of his neighbors attended the meeting.

"It was a very positive evening," said OutFront legal advocate Joni Thome. "It was the beginning of a very good dialogue, and I thought that it was very important that people said they supported the family but were also willing to express their moral opinions and views. The message was clear that despite what their moral views might be, they weren't going to treat the family badly."

Thome said OutFront will continue to work with Carver County officials, local residents, and area clergy to build a network of support for GLBT persons within the Watertown community. The agency is currently working with the county board of commissioners, the sheriff's department, and Carver County court services to develop several educational workshop on issues of community safety, hate crimes, discrimination, and homophobia.

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