Arson Forces Lesbians and Baby From Their Montana Home; Attempted Homicide Due to Role in Equal Benefits Lawsuit

February 8, 2002 12:00 am

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Statement of Matt Coles, Director, Lesbian & Gay Rights Project
American Civil Liberties Union


Shortly after 3 a.m. this morning, a lesbian couple’s home in Missoula was gutted by fire because they were part of a lawsuit filed this week seeking health benefits for same-sex partners of lesbian and gay University of Montana employees.

Adrianne Neff and Carla Grayson took their infant son and headed for the front door – only to find a wall of fire. Back in the bedroom, Adrianne passed the baby out the window to Carla, then struggled to escape herself. The house was surrounded by fire, which officials said was almost certainly the result of arson.

Whoever set this fire did not intend to simply frighten or intimidate this family. They meant to kill them. Two days after the case was filed, all of the plaintiffs received anonymous death threats in the mail that said, ‘Die dyke.’

We are shocked, sad and angry. On Monday, Carla told a room full of reporters and supporters that she was a plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the university, where she is a professor, because Adrianne needs to have health benefits in order to stay at home and care for their baby. ‘I’m doing this to protect my family,’ she said about the lawsuit on Monday.

Today, we redouble our efforts to protect this family — and continue fighting on behalf of others like them. We are working with local and university officials and law enforcement to ensure that this heinous crime is fully investigated and prosecuted – and that the families involved in this lawsuit are not vulnerable to further attack. The case is being handled as a triple attempted homicide, and federal officials have become involved in the investigation.

This is not the first time in our history that people have been attacked – and burned out of their own homes – for trying to get justice through our court system. But we want everyone to know that this does not represent Montana. We call on everyone in this state to rally around these women and make sure they’re able to live safely and with dignity.

A special fund has been established to assist the couples with costs associated with the fire and subsequent security measures. Checks can be made payable to “Relief Fund” and sent to P.O. Box 775, Helena, MT 59624.

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