Vandalism Damages More Than Property

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2006

It was early one recent Saturday morning when Heyward Drummond noticed that something was wrong. Still in his bathrobe, he shuffled down to the end of his driveway in Aldie to get the newspaper. That's when he saw it. The word was written in looping white script on the driveway, on the mailbox, on a nearby fence: "FAG."

Then Drummond smelled gas. Wide brown zigzags stained the lush green lawn where vandals had poured gasoline. Someone had pulled up dozens of boxwoods and chopped down Leyland cypress saplings that Drummond and his partner, John Ellis, had planted. Drummond couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"I just don't understand how someone could hate like that," Drummond said.

Loudoun County sheriff's officers are investigating the July 29 damage at the home in the 24000 block of Lacey Tavern Court as a hate crime, even though Virginia law does not include provisions for anti-gay violence, said Loudoun County sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell. Authorities estimate the vandals did about $5,500 in damage to the property.

But Drummond, 52, said it could cost nearly twice that to repair the damage. Not to mention the damage to the householders' sense of security. Pointing to a gasoline-stained patch of grass that trailed to the foot of his front porch, he wondered aloud whether the vandals had planned to burn the house.

"It's scary," he said. "We don't know what's next or who's next."

Drummond, a software salesman for IBM, and Ellis, 55, moved from Sterling to their four-bedroom home in Aldie two years ago after Drummond, an Ohio native with rural roots, got a hankering for the peace and privacy of the countryside. Together for four years, the couple was one of the first to settle in the small enclave of 22 upscale homes tucked away in the rolling hills about a half-mile from the intersection of Route 15 and Braddock Road.

Loudoun authorities said they were investigating whether a neighborhood dispute prompted the vandalism. Drummond, Ellis and several other neighbors have recently become embroiled in disputes with residents who ride all-terrain vehicles around the area. Drummond said he has called in noise complaints about the vehicles several times over the past several weeks.

Several neighbors said they were appalled by the anti-gay graffiti and felt sorry for Drummond and Ellis. But few were willing to talk openly about the simmering tensions over ATV use in the neighborhood. But as far as Drummond, Ellis and their supporters in Loudoun's gay and lesbian community are concerned, the ATV dispute is beside the point.

"We're the only minority here," Drummond said. "That's what makes it feel so bad."

The fact that the vandals targeted the couple against a backdrop of increasing political tension over a proposed ban on gay marriage in the state is probably not a coincidence, said David Weintraub, president of Equality Loudoun, a group of gay, lesbian and transgender residents.

Weintraub, who said he was "disgusted and saddened" by the incident, thinks the vandalism is uncharacteristic for a county that has been known to be tolerant. He worries, however, that the crime is a sign of hostility toward gays and lesbians that could escalate as the debate over the proposed legislation heats up.

"I think the intent of the message is 'Get out!' They're hoping that we will shut up and get out and sell our homes," Weintraub said.

But that's not going to happen, Drummond said. He said he and Ellis bought the house for their retirement.

"I live here, and I'm out and I don't believe in hiding," Drummond said.

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