Hate Crime: In N.C., Gay Man’s House Torched

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 10, 2008

Hate crimes against gays often involve verbal or physical assault, but they can also consist of property destruction. For one North Carolina gay man, that meant the loss of his house through arson.

The Observer News Enterprise, a Newton, N.C. newspaper, carried a Nov. 7 story about the burning of Melvin Whistlehunt's home, which was incinerated as a suspected hate crime, taking with it all of his belongings.

Whistlehunt was working in the wee hours of Nov. 7 when a phone call from his mother alerted him that his house was burning.

Firemen at the scene saw immediately that the fire was the result of arson; they also saw an anti-gay message scrawled in spray paint across the structure's brick wall.

A hate crime investigation was begun as soon as Whistlehunt's mother informed the firemen that the graffiti had not been there before.

Whistlehunt, who is openly gay, was quoted by the paper as saying, "I don't know of anybody who would go this far" to express displeasure at his sexuality.

The article quoted the emergency management coordinator for Catawba County, Karyn Yaussy, who said that the burning of Whistlehunt's home "is considered a hate crime."

Said Jason Drum, who heads up the local volunteer fire department, "I've been in the fire service 10 years and I've never seen anything like this."

The fire was called in just before 2:21 a.m. on Nov. 7; the fire was raging by the time the department arrived to combat the flames. Whistlehunt was away at work, where he got word from his mother, who phoned with the news.

The fire was so hot and so intense that nothing was left intact within the structure, which was gutted.

Said Drum, "We battled that thing for over an hour before we were able to get it under control.

"The fire was so big it was just hard to get a handle on."

In the end, seven trucks and 28 firemen were needed to quench the flames.

It took 28 firefighters and seven trucks to get the fire out.

The article quoted Whistlehunt as saying, "I'm really upset.

"Everything I had was in that house."

Added Whistlehunt, "There is nothing left at all."

Members of Whistlehunt's family were also displaced by the blaze, since the water supply for their residence came through Whistlehunt's.

"They can't even live there without water," said Whistlehunt.

The article said that though there is no hate crimes legislation per se in Catawba County, bias-driven arson is a more serious felony than other sorts of arson.

No arrests have been made, though authorities said they had identified persons of interest.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.