A Massachusetts gay couple has shared their surprise after learning the identity of an anonymous person who repeatedly harassed them with anti-gay mail.
Married couple Byron Furze and LeeMichael McLean told ABC affiliate WCVB that they have been receiving the homophobic mail at their Milton, Mass., home for five years, with no hints as to who was sending it.
The harassment took the form of magazine and newspaper subscriptions, with the name of the subscription customized to include homophobic slurs or innuendo.
“It was upsetting and we didn’t know when it was going to stop, or if it would advance to something more,” McLean told WCVB. “And it was an annoyance because I had to follow up on all of them.”
The scheme stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the harasser attempted to resume this year by sending the couple a subscription to the Boston Globe.
However, the couple already has a subscription to the Globe, causing the newspaper to return the subscription card to their address.
It contained the name “Michelle Fruitzey,” an offensive amalgamation of the couple’s names, but also the couple’s first real clue as to their harasser’s identity: handwriting.
McLean took a photo of the card and shared it to social media as well as police. Reaction from their friends and neighbors was immediate, with one enterprising Milton resident filing a Freedom of Information request for the town’s election records.
After the helpful stranger combed the records and found a match, Furze and McLean realized that not only did they know who the culprit was, but he was one of their neighbors and a fellow Town Meeting member.
“He says hi to me. We’ve had casual conversations,” McLean told WCVB. “I spoke with him about a week before that last card came about work that was being done on his house. I was running by his house and stopped to have a chat. Never would have suspected it.”
Police confronted the man, who confessed to sending the mailers, and the Boston Globe reports that he now faces a charge of criminal harassment.
The man told police that he started his anti-gay campaign because he was “motivated by our outspokenness and our opinions about Milton’s politics and Milton’s future,” Furze told the Globe, adding, “I have some doubts about that.”
McLean said that the couple, who have a son together, didn’t process the impact of the anti-gay harassment until after they identified who was behind it, saying they had “tried not to worry about it too much.”
“At first, it was scary because we weren’t sure how many we would get or if it would advance to violence,” he said. “After we identified who it was, we were both very anxious and depressed, and I was very upset. I didn’t realize at first that it had been bothering me for the last five years. I didn’t have any place to put it, and I was ignoring it.”
The couple have attempted to turn the harassment into something positive, after the hashtag #iammichellefruitzey started to gain popularity.
They printed the hashtag on t-shirts, with all proceeds going towards a scholarship fund for Milton High School and Pierce Middle School’s Gay Straight Alliance. Thus far, they have raised more than $15,000.
“For us, this is not really about broadcasting the bad. It’s about embracing the good and finding ways to blow it up into something bigger,” Furze told the Globe.
McLean added, “We can own this slur, this name, and feel better about it.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!