TIERRA VERDE ó Judson Kidd and James Donovan are a gay couple with an adopted black son. From the day they moved into their waterfront house last summer, they never felt welcomed in the conservative, overwhelmingly white community of Tierra Verde.
Neighbors never waved or introduced themselves, they said. One mother yanked her daughter away when she started to play with 2-year-old Van. Then came Halloween, and the disturbing decorations at the big house up the street.
The yard had been transformed into a graveyard. "CNN,íí was written on one white cross, with a gruesome gray skull at its base. Other crosses bore the names of Democrats Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. A firepit contained a jumble of bones and a cross marked "George Soros,íí the Jewish billionaire who supports liberal causes.
All had been critics of President Donald J. Trump.
Kidd was so appalled that he took to Nextdoor, the social media site on which residents of a neighborhood can post messages, whether offering items for sale or reporting suspicious behavior. Kiddís message was more pointed.
"This is pathetic," he said of the graveyard display. "Canít we take the politics out of Halloween?"
That elicited a quick response: "Youíre disgusting. If you donít like it why donít you move."
Since then, a long string of comments has reflected the nationís deep divides leading up to Tuesdayís elections. Some posts supported Kidd. Others strongly defended the graveyard.
That made Kidd and Donovan wonder: Is this a neighborhood where we want to raise our black son? Could he be the object of racist taunts or worse as attitudes become even more hardened and polarized?
"People hear things from the president and think, ĎIf the leader of the free world says it, itís OK,í" Kidd said. "Even my rhetoric has amped up, not that Iím proud of it. But this is the world we live in today."
Now in their early 40s, Donovan and Kidd have been together for 15 years.
Donovan came out just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Then working on Wall Street, he was getting his shoes shined near the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He saw people jumping from 100 stories up and realized: Life is short. It was time to acknowledge he was gay.
Soon afterward, Donovanís employer transferred him to Texas. He met Kidd, who had just graduated from Southern Methodist University, in a gay bar in Dallas. Over the following years they moved frequently as they married and advanced in their careers ó Donovan as a media executive who once worked for CNNís parent company; Kidd in banking, then as a Realtor.
Four years ago, they settled in the Tampa Bay area. They had a vacation cottage on Anna Maria Island ó "Everybody there loved having gay friends," Kidd says ó and a waterfront house in northeast St. Petersburg, known as one of the nationís most gay-friendly cities. When the couple adopted Van, neighbors cooed at the baby and brought over gifts.
This year, Kidd found an attractive deal on a larger house in Tierra Verde with a prized view of Boca Ciega Bay. As they were moving in last July, two children, no older than 7 or 8, appeared with signs sporting Trumpís "Make America Great Again" slogan.
No one stopped by to say hello.
"This is the most unwelcome Iíve ever felt," Kidd said, "Weíve live in all kinds of Deep South states and in all those situations, I was surprised at how considerate people were. In Little Rock, Arkansas, it was pure Southern hospitality."
Several days before Halloween, Donovan was riding his bike when he saw the mock graveyard. In addition to the Clinton, Pelosi, Schumer and CNN signs, one grave was marked "Socialism" and another "Pocahontas" ó Trumpís nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren ó with a severed head nearby. Donovan was also struck by the tiki torches burning next to white crosses and signs that said: "Stay Away.íí
The graveyard seemed to be a message to all those who werenít straight, white Trump supporters.
Kidd called the Tierra Verde Community Association and sent photographs. He heard nothing. Thatís when he posted on Nextdoor and prompted the response so offensive that it was taken down. But there were dozens of other comments:
Oh, dear. Whatever happened to having a sense of humor. No, Halloween isnít just for kids and God Bless the First Amendment. If a sign intimidates you, go to your safe place.
Iím guessing that it wasnít your neighborís intent for you to feel uncomfortable and if it was, who cares. Be grateful you can afford your home. The are plenty of people who canít afford a home at all.
Just remember, you moved here and those tiki torches probably were here before you.
There were postings in support, too.
I agreed with you Mr. Kidd. Our society has become increasingly coarse and aggressive. The adults are acting like children.
Putting the name of a living person on a gravestone implies you want them dead.
The nation is split and that includes Tierra Verde. This gallows humor is an insult to other neighbors and confusing to children who we want to teach that we are all Americans with values.
The white nationalists who held their rally in Charlottesville last year used tiki torches as they marched around chanting "Jews will not replace us" and other, much worse anti-Semitic chants.
Also joining the online conversation Sharon Rhoads, the homeowner with the graveyard. She cited her charitable work and her adoption of two orphaned children from Guatemala.
My husband and I hate NO ONE, she wrote. We teach our children that we are all ALL Godís people and we love them all ó men, women, LGBT, black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Jew. Our graveyard was simply political satire designed to target that with which we do disagree, WHICH IS SOCIALISM.
Rhoads invited Kidd to have coffee, which he declined. That prompted more Nextdoor comments, some of which criticized him for not meeting with her.
"With that stuff in her yard, Iím not setting foot on her property," he said.
Rhoads did not respond to a call for comment. The Tierra Verde Community Association said it had no comment on the controversy over her Halloween decorations.
At first, Kidd and Donovan were so concerned about the graveyard and some of the postings on Nextdoor that they decided to sell the house and move. Then neighbors invited them to Halloween parties. Others thanked them for speaking out. Perhaps Tierra Verde was not quite as unfriendly as they thought.
They are going to stay, for the time being at least.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate