LATTA, S.C. — When openly gay police Chief Crystal Moore was fired by a mayor who condemned her lifestyle as "questionable," she feared her two-decade career in law enforcement in this town was over.
Then, this conservative, small town rebelled.
The people of Latta, who voted overwhelmingly for a state amendment banning gay marriage eight years ago, turned against the mayor, stripped him of his powers, and the town council rehired Moore. They said her dedication to the town mattered more than her sexual orientation.
Residents remembered Moore's civic spirit from as far back as 1989, when Hurricane Hugo tore through Latta. She was a high school student working part time as a police dispatcher, and helped cut downed tree limbs to clean up the debris. This February, when an ice storm crippled the town and left it without power for days, Moore piled her officers into her SUV and checked on as many people as she could.
"That's Crystal. All she does is help people. I don't get why he fired her. Maybe it's the ignorant people who talk the loudest. She was the same great Crystal yesterday as she is today, and she'll be the same person tomorrow," said Latta resident Dottie Walters.
Mayor Earl Bullard vehemently denied that he fired Moore because she was gay. Instead, he said she was dismissed for "sheer insubordination" during the three months he was her boss.
Moore said she hadn't received a single reprimand during her career until Bullard presented her with seven the day she was fired in April. Word of her termination spread fast in this tobacco hub of about 1,400 people, just off Interstate 95. About two dozen people gathered at her office in support on the day she was let go.
The support for Moore grew when town council member Jarett Taylor started secretly recording his conversations with the mayor, which is legal in South Carolina. Taylor said he learned not to trust the mayor because he would tell him something, and later deny he ever said it.
In a conversation released to reporters after Moore was fired, the mayor said: "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 … way it's supposed to be."
Bullard, who has avoided reporters for much of the past three months, told the Associated Press that was him on the tape. He offered no apologies.
Within days of Moore's termination, the town council passed a vote of confidence in her. They set up an election that would strip the mayor of his power and give them more authority, including the ability to hire the police chief.
In June, 69 percent of 475 voters approved of taking the mayor's power away. Now essentially a figurehead, it's not clear what he is going to do next. He still has three years left on his term.
When Moore returned to work June 30, people honked their car horns and gave her thumbs up as she drove around in her police SUV, according to TV reports.
Now Moore travels about once a week to talk to gay groups and encourage laws to stop discrimination against homosexuals.
"I think things are going to change, like they did in the civil rights movement," Moore said.