Local

A gay couple in Milton was harassed for years. Now the community is rallying around them.

"The bright side is that the number of people who are willing to put up with that kind of bullying is much smaller than the people who are outraged about it."

Bryan Furze, left, his partner LeeMichael McLean and their son Simon pose for a portrait at their Milton home. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Milton couple Bryan Furze and LeeMichael McLean received magazine subscriptions addressed to homophobic names like “Michelle Fruitzey” for five years, until the perpetrator was arrested in June thanks to handwriting analysis. In the last week, Milton has rallied around the couple with the hashtag #iammichellefruitzey and raised over $16,000 to benefit the local schools’s Gay Straight Alliance.

Furze and McLean, whose son was 2-years-old at the time, began receiving subscriptions and solicitations addressed to insulting names five years ago, while both were serving as chairs of local boards and were very active in Town Meeting politics. In an interview with the Milton Scene on Milton Access TV, McLean said he thinks that’s why it all started.

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“I think serving was what caused the problem – if you want to call it a problem,” he said. “I don’t know exactly the date the first issues started coming, but we were speaking at Town Meeting a lot, we were at the podium a lot, so we became very visible very quickly. We long suspected that was the reason somebody was harassing us.”

When the couple brought this to the Milton Police, McLean said police told them harassment like this is usually perpetrated by someone “you can see from your house.” That turned out to be true: Deputy Chief James O’Neil told The Boston Globe police are seeking charges of criminal harassment against a man who is a longtime neighbor of the couple.

What went down

This spring, the perpetrator, who has not been publicly identified, ordered a subscription to The Boston Globe sent to “Michelle Fruitzey.” Since the couple already had a subscription, the Globe returned the order form, which included handwriting. The couple posted on Facebook asking for help identifying the handwriting.

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“Do you recognize this handwriting? …I assume this is from the same person who signed my husband and I up for about 30 magazine subscriptions under the name ‘Dick Likkors,’ but joke is on them, what gay guy doesn’t want free issues of Vogue and Cosmopolitan?” The Facebook post read. “This one (fun new mash-up of our names while also calling us fruity…again, I own it) got returned to us because this idiot apparently thinks our house doesn’t already pay for journalism.”

A local resident was bothered by this, the Globe reported, and made a public records request for nomination papers to compare voter’s signatures. When he thought he had a match, he brought it to local police. Police confronted the suspect, who apparently confessed.

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“He told the officer that he was motivated by our outspokenness and our opinions about Milton’s politics and Milton’s future,” Furze told the Globe. “I have some doubts about that.”

Turning it into something good

But the couple, and Milton residents, are turning all this into something positive.

Furze and McLean started a campaign raising money for the Milton schools Gay Straight Alliance. Donate, and get a t-shirt with the hashtag #iammichellefruitzey. The support has been so overwhelming that the couple has increased the fundraising goal several times. As of June 14, over $16,000 had been raised towards a $25,000 goal, which Furze indicated would go towards endowing a lasting scholarship.

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Though it’s been tough experiencing this harassment, the couple told the Globe it’s been a relief to have the perpetrator identified.

“My big takeaway from this is that bullying happens anywhere,” McLean said. “But the bright side is that the number of people who are willing to put up with that kind of bullying is much smaller than the people who are outraged about it.”

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