PROVINCETOWN, Mass. – Heterosexuals in this overwhelmingly gay resort town on the tip of Cape Cod are complaining that the oppressed have become the oppressors.
Straight people say they have been taunted as "breeders." One woman who signed a petition against gay marriage says she was berated as a bigot by a gay man, and another complained that dog feces were left next to her car.
"The gay community is not immune to having potential prejudices. We're all human, including gay people," said Tom Lang, director of knowthyneighbor.org, a nonprofit group that supports gay marriage.
Provincetown, or P-town, has long attracted writers, artists and gays and lesbians, and is known as a place where people can feel free to be themselves — a seaside version of Greenwich Village. New England's unofficial gay capital has just 3,400 year-round residents, but summer tourism brings nearly 10 times as many people.
Locals say the intolerance from those who have long pleaded for tolerance has been stirred, in part, by the dispute over Massachusetts' becoming the first and only state to legalize gay marriage.
Tensions boiled over this year after the names and addresses of nearly 5,000 Massachusetts residents — 43 of them from Provincetown — who signed a petition seeking a constitutional amendment against gay marriage were published on the knowthyneighbor Web site.
Earlier this month, a gay man got into a shouting match at a grocery store with a straight woman, calling her a bigot for signing the petition.
A week afterward, Police Chief Ted Meyer held a town meeting that drew about 50 people to discuss not just that argument, but wider issues of civility and respect.
Meyer said that two other people who signed the petition felt targeted after the Web site published their names. One woman charged that same-sex marriage supporters put dog feces next to her car, an accusation Meyer said would be impossible to prove. Another woman found a copy of the knowthyneighbor list on her windshield.
Straight tourists have also complained of being called "breeders," a joking or derogatory slur used by gays to describe heterosexuals.
"It's a term of divisiveness," said Town Manager Keith Bergman.
Most of the Provincetown residents who signed the petition are members of St. Peter's Catholic Church, according to Rev. Henry J. Dahl, pastor at St. Peter's. The majority of the church's 750 parishioners are Portuguese families who are not gay, though St. Peter's is listed as a "gay-friendly" church by various gay Web sites.
Dahl said he is offended that some proponents of same-sex marriage have equated the opposing view with bigotry. "I'll take ownership of being a Catholic and being a signer of the petition, but I won't take ownership of being a bigot," he said.
He said he believes the list was publicized to intimidate those who oppose same-sex marriage.
But Lang, of knowthyneighbor, said the list was published to encourage discussion of the gay marriage issue. And he condemned disrespectful behavior on the part of gays toward straight people.
"Despite all that's been thrown at the gay community, it's no excuse for being rude or using derogatory terms to anyone," he said.
The friction has also drawn attention to allegations of racism toward seasonal workers from Jamaica and Eastern Europe. Provincetown is overwhelmingly white, with 2000 Census figures showing just 258 blacks, 74 Hispanics, 17 Asians and 11 American Indians.
At a town meeting, the Rev. Brenda Hayward, a black woman who lives in Provincetown, said tourists and residents alike have called her the "n-word."
The police chief, however, said there have not been any hate crimes in Provincetown since 1996. And Liu Jizhong, a cook at a Chinese restaurant, said discrimination is not a problem in Provincetown.
"Here, everyone's gay," Liu said. "They don't have a discriminatory mindset."