Crystal Moore was in a police uniform and back on the job Monday morning as police chief of Latta, S.C. – more than two months after she says she was fired because she's a lesbian.
The tiny town, pop. 1,350, has rallied behind Moore, 42, who was born and raised in Latta and has served 23 years on the town police force. She was abruptly fired as police chief in April by the Latta mayor, who was recorded making homophobic remarks in a phone call with a town council member.
About 15 town residents greeted Moore early Monday when she reported to work at the town hall and police station. Moore said people cheered for her and honked their horns as she drove to work.
"This has been an awesome outcome for our little town,"' Moore said by phone outside the police station Monday morning, where townspeople were congratulating her.
Residents voted 328-147 last week to change the town form of government from "mayor strong" to "council strong." That paved the way for a 6-0 council vote Friday night to endorse the change and rehire Moore as police chief.
Moore took the oath of office as police chief at the meeting, attended by more than 100 people.
Mayor Earl Bullard, who hired a new chief last week, was entitled to vote but did not attend the meeting, according to Moore and council member Jarett Taylor.
Bullard has denied firing Moore because she's gay. He has said she was removed as chief because she failed to maintain order and questioned authority. The mayor did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
The outpouring of support for Moore is a measure of rapidly changing American attitudes toward gays, even in a solidly Republican small Southern town in the Bible Belt.
"One thing this experience taught me is that if you are honest, loyal and dedicated, people will stand behind you'' regardless of sexual identity, Moore said. She lives in Latta with her partner.
Taylor, the councilman who recorded the anti-gay phone tirade by the mayor, said the council voted Friday to invalidate a contract Bullard signed last week with a new police chief. The new chief was notified Friday and did not show up to claim the job Monday, Taylor said.
"The people have finally gotten what they wanted," Taylor said. "This town has really come together behind Crystal."
In the recorded conversation, the mayor said he'd rather have a drunk than a homosexual take care of his children, and said he did not approve of gay lifestyles.
Moore said her first order of business is to hire replacements for two of the nine officers on her force who resigned during her more than two months away. She said she planned to resume her normal patrols later Monday, on foot and in her patrol car.
"Hopefully, things will settle down and I can get back to doing my job,'' she said.