Crystal Moore, the openly gay police chief of Latta, South Carolina, cried when she lost her job in April, fired by Mayor Earl Bullard, a man who has condemned her lifestyle as “questionable.”
“All around the street were people cheering me on, wanting me back,” Moore tells PEOPLE of the day she was fired. “People that I had locked up were here saying, ‘You’ve locked me up, but you’ve done it with dignity and respect. You did your job and you did what you were supposed to do and I’m here to support you.’ It was amazing.”
The small town of Latta rallied around her and overwhelmingly voted to give Moore her job back, saying her sexual orientation had nothing to do with her ability to do her job. She was once again sworn in as the town’s police chief on June 27.
“A lady that was 86 years old came to me and said, ‘I’ve never voted before. But because of you and the person you are, I’m coming to vote,’ ” Moore recalls.
“It’s never been about the fact that she’s gay,” Town Councilman Jarett Taylor tells PEOPLE. “We could care less that she’s gay. I think I can speak for the whole entire town, we don’t care that she’s gay. She gets out and does her job, she does her job well and she cares about the town, she cares about the people.”
Taylor led the charge for Moore. After he became suspicious of the mayor’s motivations, the councilman secretly began recording his conversations with Bullard (which is legal in the state of South Carolina). It’s on one of these tapes that the mayor can be heard saying: “I’d much rather have somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children, because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be.”
For his part, Bullard does not deny the harsh words, but he does state that they were not said about Moore.
“I was talking about another former town employee who had resigned,” Bullard tells PEOPLE. “It had nothing to do with Crystal Moore, nothing. This individual was gay and we were talking about the fact that she had quit. They used the quote out of context, is what they did, to further their position.”
Fired for Insubordination
So did Bullard fire Moore because she is gay? He says no, claiming that she was actually let go for “sheer insubordination.”
“It had gotten to the point that she thought she didn’t have anyone to answer to,” Bullard tells PEOPLE. “I don’t have anything against gays. What a person does behind their closed doors is their own business, but it’s hard to explain to a 5-year-old child why another 5-year-old child has two mommies or two daddies.”
Moore disagrees with Bullard’s statement.
“There was no insubordination,” says Moore. “I tried to work with the mayor. I did not disrespect him. I did exactly what I was supposed to. His personal vendetta, his personal beliefs is what got us into this.”
Though Bullard insists that he has plenty of gay friends and family members, he stands by what he can be heard saying on Taylor’s tape.
“I, as a person, in my own heart of hearts, do not agree with the homosexual lifestyle, but I will never persecute nor prosecute anyone for it. That’s their decision,” he says. “That’s between them and whoever they’re with and their god. That’s for them to work out, not me.”
Taylor says he’s shocked that Bullard hasn’t shown more regret for his homophobic remarks.
“You d think after months of getting absolutely shattered in the media and losing your authority in the town of Latta, I would assume you would learn a little bit of remorse,” he says. “It just goes to show you, that’s what kind of man we’re dealing with.”
Stacks of Hate Mail
These days, Bullard is having a rough time in Latta.
“I’ve got a stack of hate mail in my file drawer that’s about two inches thick that came from all over the country,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’ve had people threaten me. When I say threaten, I mean literally threaten with bodily harm.”
He’s even been kicked out of his old office.
“My office was in the town hall, that’s where it was,” he says. “They decided to give my office to the municipal judge and move me across the street to a building where the air conditioner doesn’t even work.”
But Bullard says he won’t let the antagonism get him down.
“I’m not going to be provoked,” he says. “I’ve always taken the high road in this.”
And while Moore may have her job back, she’s been left with a mound of legal bills, totaling some $18,000, she says.
“We have grounds for a lawsuit, but to sue the mayor, you’d have to sue the town,” she says. “It’s not fair for me to sue the town. The citizens didn’t cause this, [Bullard] did.”
Moore won’t have to pay off all of her legal debt by herself, however. Some citizens of Latta have set up a Go Fund Me page in Moore’s name. So far more than $8,000 has been donated.
Moore adds: “I’m just hoping that this publicity I didn’t ask for will help me.”