They Were Threatened And Their Building Was Burned Down. Now This Gay Couple Says They’re Leaving Town

"This town is dealing with a lot of hate right now," said Tim Griffin. "This has just got to stop."

A building owned by a South Carolina gay couple has burned to the ground in what the victims are calling a hate crime.

A suspicious fire early Friday morning destroyed a newly built 3,000-square-foot structure just feet from the Pageland, South Carolina, home of Tim and Neil Griffin. The men say it was going to be used to host the Miss Pageland Pageant, a local beauty contest.

The Griffins were awoken at 2am by the smell of smoke, but by the time the fire department arrived, “the building was 80%, 90% gone,” Tim Griffin told WSOC-TV Channel 9. “It went down just like that.”

The incident was predated by what appears to be a longstanding feud between the Griffins and several prominent townsfolk. On Facebook, Griffin accused councilwoman Elaine Robertson and her family and friends, of “posting comments about harming us, shooting us, running us out of town—calling us fags, child molesters, child-porn distributors, threatening Neil’s job and on and on.” (The men say they’ve reported the threats to authorities, but “they did nothing.”)

Tony Nolan, a local fundraising consultant and former head of the local chamber of commerce, claims the Griffins are frauds “who were ostracized and run out of Charlotte by their neighbors.”

“More than a dozen people have contacted me,” he wrote on Facebook, “about how disgusted they are that the two desperate, failed, lying charlatans have committed pity-me arson… AGAIN.”

Supplies, memorabilia and thousands of gowns were lost in the blaze. The unit did not have power yet, making an electrical fire or other accident unlikely.

“I think the part that has me in the most tears is the Miss Pageland history and memorabilia,” Griffin wrote on Facebook. “Over the past ten years we had collected so many items related to Miss Pageland. Pictures, sashes, gowns, oil paintings, programs, newspaper articles, personal letters and other irreplaceable items are all gone.”

He believes the intention was to run him and his husband out of town—and it sounds like it worked.

“We can’t take it anymore, emotionally and physically,” he said. “We’ll go. We’re done.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.