Saturday, February 9, 2002

Crime

Arsonist hits lesbian couple's house

Associated Press

MISSOULA _ An arsonist broke into the home of a lesbian couple here early Friday and set it on fire, just days after the couple were named as lead plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the women, along with other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, received death threats by mail after the suit was filed that read: "Die, Dyke."

Police Capt. Bob Reid said authorities are treating the fire as an attempted murder. He said local police had contacted agents with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The women, Carla Grayson and Adrianne Neff, escaped the fire with their infant son through a window. They were not seriously injured.

The ACLU condemned the attack, saying the fire went far beyond intimidation.

"Whoever set this fire did not intend to simply frighten or intimidate this family. They meant to kill them," said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

Missoula Fire Marshal Bob Rajala said the blaze was set inside the home sometime after 3 a.m., and there was "no doubt whatsoever" it was intentional. The home was gutted.

Grayson, a psychology professor at the University of Montana in Missoula, was among state university system employees who, along with their gay and lesbian partners, sued the system Monday for not extending insurance and other benefits to same-sex couples.

Grayson's and Neff's names both appeared in newspaper articles about the lawsuit..

The arson occurred two days after Neff, Grayson and another lesbian couple -- Carol Snetsinger and Nancy Siegel -- received a threatening, powder-filled letter in the mail.

Snetsinger said she was alerted by Neff and put on a pair of latex gloves before going to her mailbox. She put the letter in an plastic bag and called police.

Test results are not available yet, she said.

Christine Kaufmann, a state legislator and open lesbian, said word about the powder scare was frightening.

"I think the message, of course, to the gay and lesbian community is to shut up and quit talking about civil rights. Go back into our closets and leave our communities."