Southern Discomfort: The Not So Golden Valley

H. Lukas Green and Jody May-Chang©
May 3, 2008 PrideDEPOT.com

The actions of a lesbian couple and their supporters caused an avalanche of religious fervor, fear and bigotry in the small southern towns of Casar and Shelby, North Carolina.

Camp Lickalotta Area

All of this played out on the front page of The Star, the largest daily newspaper in Shelby, NC. The big news was about a lesbian couple trying to establishing an LGBT-friendly campground called, “Camp Lickalotta.”

Christian conservatives quickly piled on the women and their supporters condemning them as sinners and a threat to families.

The Star reportedly learned of the camp from locals who read about it on the internet and posted comments on the newspaper’s website. The Star plastered news about the camp on its front page under a bold doomsday headline. The newspaper even included a warning that the news might be considered offensive to readers.

Soon a campaign was launched to intimidate the gay community. The Star assisted in that effort by repeating the phrase “controversial camp” in each story. The newspaper embraced a reporting style favoring religious conservatives who were enraged that the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” was invading their community.

The biased reporting almost seemed to invite many of off-color comments about lesbians building “Camp Lickalotta” that were freely posted on The Star’s website. If there was any hint of journalistic integrity, The Star managed shred it by publishing a font page verbatim letter written by O. Max Gardner III, a prominent attorney representing the couple who evicted the lesbians from the Golden Valley Campground where “Camp Lickalotta” was proposed to be built.

There is no denying that news about lesbians building a place called “Camp Lickalotta” is in itself attention-grabbing, but that was the marketing idea by its founders Nancy Leedy and Joanie Beasley. They wanted to create a place that would to grab the attention and imagination of people – well, it apparently worked.

It is easy to dismiss this story by focusing only on the name, “Camp Lickalotta,” but to stop there is to miss the real story behind the name. The camp could have been called anything and still faced opposition because this is about being queer in a small town ruled by ultra-conservative politics and religious extremists whose roots are planted deep in the Heart of Dixie.

Speaking out for equality or acceptance for gays means risking a harsh negative reaction or very possibly violence. What happened in this part of North Carolina happens all too often to queers outside major cities where it goes unseen and unreported, even in the gay media.

A Dream Built on Trust

The dream to create Camp Lickalotta was based on mutual understanding and trust, according to Nancy Leedy and Joanie Beasley. These are the women at the center of the firestorm who insist that they had verbal agreement with Joe and Lynn Hoyle to establish an LGBT-friendly camping area at Golden Valley Campground. They claim that they had an understanding that they could have their campground there only long enough to make enough money to establish a place of their own at another location.

To Leedy and Beasley, building this camp was an opportunity to transform a dream into reality. The couple sold or stored many of their belongings and purchased a 1973 Airstream trailer before moving to Golden Valley Campground. Camp Lickalotta was not a silly name to them, it was a place where the LGBT community could go to enjoy the outdoors in peace.

Their dreams came to a screeching halt when media reports capitalized on the camp’s name and sensationalized their activities. The coverage played to the fears and prejudice of gays. The community’s overreaction to the idea of Camp Lickalotta caused the Hoyles to immediately distance themselves from Leedy and Beasley. The Hoyles acted quickly to evict the women from Golden Valley Campground while in the presence of a county sheriff’s deputy.

The Hoyles claimed the women violated camp rules, owed them money, and misrepresented their intentions for creating Camp Lickalotta and promoting a music festival.

They hired attorney O. Max Gardner, III, to defend their eviction action and to field all media and pubic inquires. Gardner said that soon after The Star reported about Camp Lickalotta, the Hoyles were dealing with harassment and name-calling in the community of Casar (pronounced: Kay-Zer).

Joe and Lynn Hoyle's Attorney, O. Max Gardner, IIIGardner, or simply “O. Max” as the newspaper calls him, issued a statement on behalf of the Hoyles that deflated any notion that Camp Lickalotta was in the works at Golden Valley Campground.

His letter was published verbatim on the front page of The Star and it said the Hoyles were never not at odds with the women’s so-called “sexual preference.” He contends that they misrepresented their ownership of the property where the LGBT-friendly camp was to be built.

Gardner withdraw his “sexual preference” comment during an interview with PrideDEPOT.com.

“That was probably a poor choice of words on my part,” Gardner said. “I didn’t take a high profile position, I simply made a statement for the Hoyle’s because they were being inundated with media and they were getting calls at home that were not pleasant calls.”

He also said that people were putting up signs and defacing campground signs.

“So it was a situation where we had to make a statement and there were all sorts of rumors in this community about what was going on around on that property,” Gardner said.

What the Hoyle’s Know, And When They Knew It?

PrideDEPOT.com spoke with Lynn Hoyle who directed all questions to her attorney.

“I really want to talk to you,” Hoyle said. But she insisted on following Gardner’s advice which was not respond. When pressed to explain about how much land the women cleared, she said it was about 4 or 5 acres. Hoyle also indicated she would be willing to be interviewed after the Bushstock concert was over.

In a letter delivered to The Star on March 3, 2008, the Hoyles stated that they made a verbal agreement allowing the women to host a family-oriented fundraiser on the property, with money going toward the women buying their own campground.

The Star newspaper indicated it received a letter from the Hoyles admitting that a verbal agreement existed between the women and themselves, but that it was not their understanding that Camp Lickalotta would be established within the Golden Valley Campground.

“Creating their own campground within Golden Valley Campground and making it lesbian, gay and transgender-themed was not discussed the Hoyle’s say.” – The Star (3/3/08)

CJ Johnson, who described herself as a mutual friend who introduced Leedy and Beasley to the Hoyles, disagrees. She says the Hoyles where aware that the women intended to construct an LGBT-friendly camp within Golden Valley Campground. She also said the Hoyles participated in Camp Lickalotta events on the property.

“We then explained to them [the Hoyles] who they were and what they represented, and what they were looking to do. Joanie and Nancy then proceeded to meet with them and go over ideas and plans and were very excited that it was working out that way,” Johnson told PrideDEPOT.com.

According to Johnson, “They [the Hoyles] always joined in the festivities and had a grand time with us. They were always accepted into whatever we were doing, whether it was sitting around the fires at night, dancing, or playing softball. They were always quite friendly no matter what was going on or who else was around or whatever.”

Joe Hoyle Camp Lickalotta Belly Dancer

Joe Hoyle Camp Lickalotta

“The Hoyles knew what Camp Lickalotta was all about, what it stood for,” said Ria Coesel. “I saw Lynn helping the ladies out.”

Lynn Hoyle Camp Lickalotta Clearing Land

Lynn Hoyle Camp Lickalotta Playing Softball

Leedy and Beasley insist a verbal agreement was worked out with the Hoyles at that time.

“We’d clear the land, they would let us use that part of the land for events, and for camping for Camp Lickalotta and they get fifty percent of the profits, and we’d get fifty percent. We’d save up enough money for our land, and then we would move on,” said Leedy.

The Camp Lickalotta founders say they moved to the Golden Valley Campground at the Hoyle’s invitation.

“They told us we wouldn’t have to worry about the RV space rental in exchange for working the land,” says Beasley.

O. Max Gardner, III – The Shelby Dynasty

“Joe and Lynn have a strong commitment to the citizens of these two great counties and would never knowingly and willingly take any actions that would do anything to tarnish the image of this area with respect to our high moral standards and commitment to traditional family and religious values,” Gardner (The Star -March 6, 2008).

Gardner took a different tone with PrideDEPOT.com than that expressed in The Star.

“I wish I could say there’s no prejudice in America against Hispanics or African Americans or gay people, but I’m afraid that is still the case,” Gardner said. “This county [Rutherford County] which is a very rural part of the county is one of those areas.”

Gardner belongs to “The Shelby Dynasty” – a well-known family with roots in North Carolina, and a long history in Democratic Party politics. Gardner was not shy about distancing his personal politics from those of the majority around him.

“I’m what I’ll consider a liberal Democrat,” Gardner said. “That is a very strong conservative Republican part of our county and in my lifetime, my parents, grandfather’s that area never voted Democratic for anything.”

“Joe and Lynn Hoyle, as the sole owners of the Golden Valley Campground, specifically disapprove of the name that has been promoted by these parties and disavow any association of any nature whatsoever with that name and deny that they ever approved or authorized the use of that name with their campground,” Gardner (The Star – 3/10/08)

Johnson insists that the Hoyles were nothing but supportive of the women. “Even when Camp Lickalotta had the first event, they stood up in front of everyone on that first Saturday night and welcomed us into their community and said we would always be welcome and safe there,” Johnson said. “They said they didn’t have a problem with us and would like to be a part of a more understanding and accepting community, and were excited to be working together with us to bring unity between the homosexual and heterosexual people within the community.”

Camp Lickalotta Fun

“Queers Not Welcome” – From Eviction To Moving Day

Beasley says the eviction notice was handed to her by Joe Hoyle while in the company of a Rutherford County Sheriff.

Camp Lickalotta Queers Ain't Welcome in Shelby North Carolina

“With a cop standing there, Joe came up to me and handed me the eviction notice and I went up to him and I reached my hand out he says ‘don’t you come no closer’ and it was like what?” says Beasley.

PrideDEPOT.com obtained a copy of the three paragraph eviction letter served to Leedy and Beasley that day.

Camp Lickalotta Eviction Letter

The notice referred to money owed, but offered no itemization or documentation to support the claim. The eviction notice ordered them to vacate the property within seven days, indicating it was “Pursuant to North Carolina Law.” The notice did not cite which state law. The Hoyles also included charges totaling about $1,150 that they say are owed to them.

Gardner said the Hoyles did not consult with him on the wording of the eviction notice and that the state law referencing to the “Landlord-Tenant Act.”

Beasley claims she had an agreement that work done on the Hoyles property would be in exchange for RV rental fees. “We did other things around there, planted ferns, cleared the creek, weed whacked and helped put out mulch,” Beasley said.

The Hoyles would not comment to PrideDEPOT.com on the matter.

“Camp Lickalotta had events there all summer long and through the fall and there were still no problems whatsoever,” said Johnson. “The Hoyles were always very happy with the attendees of the events and in how the campground was left when the event was over. We always cleaned up and took care to leave it always better than we found it.”

Gardner said his clients worked along side the women because they had a different idea of what was planned.

“I think a lot of people worked on clearing the land for what they thought was going to be a joint family oriented type concert,” said Gardner.

However, Gardner was unable to explain why the women would work for eight months on property they did not own, just for a weekend concert event.

Camp Lickalotta Land Cleared at Golden Valley Campground Casar North Carolina

Leedy told PrideDEPOT.com that Beasley still loves and cares about the Hoyles.

“They were such close friends that this was a huge betrayal to her,” Leedy said “She was heartbroken, heart sick, crying. You have to understand I have only seen Joanie cry twice in six years. Once at her father’s funeral and once when Joanie and I had an argument. For two or three days on end she was just crying. She was so betrayed.”

Beasley said she not only felt betrayed, but she was worried about her personal safety after reports about Camp Lickalotta surfaced in the media. She said people were driving around the couple’s RV scaring her while she was inside alone.

“I’m retired, so I am up there all the time while Nancy is at work,” Beasley said. “Our shower stall had broken and our water heater had gone out. I could not even go up to the shower area to take a dag gum bath, for like 5 days. I had to boil water. I was washing in the sink just doing bird baths because I cold not go up to the area to take a shower. It was very frightening. I just felt that I was safer where I was at. I didn’t need to be confronted with anything or anybody. It was bad. It was very bad.”

She described feeling intimidated by people who suddenly showed up to hold prayer meetings. Leedy said the group was there because of the media coverage about Camp Lickalotta.

The women say they did not know from one minute to the next if they were in danger. They described strangers in cars circling their trailer at night causing fear and intimidation.

“I was a nervous wreck that day we were moving out,” Beasley said. “I always thought I was strong. I felt that in a lot of ways I was stronger than Nancy. Nancy drove the moving truck. I was in no shape at all. I was hurting so bad I had already broke out in a sweat my chest was hurting.”

Leedy and Beasley requested that a Rutherford County Sheriff Deputy escort them off the Golden Valley Campground property.

“There was so much tension and it got worse every day,” Leedy said. “There was so much ‘he said, she said’ that we felt it best to have the sheriff there. For our safety, he ended up escorting us to the county line.”

The couple’s personal problems became bigger after the eviction because they were separated from each other by about 150 miles until they could reestablish proper living arrangements.

The women said it was a struggle to find housing after all the negative media attention, having little money and handed a recent eviction. But they are reunited and feel can finally sleep at night and focus their energies on healing and moving forward with their plans to launch the music festival, Bushstock ’08.

Beasley says there is a sign in Rutherford County that says “Small Town Friendly.”

“There was nothing friendly at all what happened to us,” she said. “I wanted to write them and say you might want to change your sign ‘Welcome to Shelby or Casar, if you are not gay,'” Leedy added.

Moving On And Not Giving Up!

Tensions were very high in those seven days before the women were forced out of Shelby. Leedy now says they had no idea just how much they had been traumatized by the situation until they were free from it. She still wakes up at night and has to remind herself that they are all together again and safe with friends.

“This is now a time for healing and moving forward with Bushstock,” Leedy says.

Once Camp Lickalotta is back on its feet and firmly established, Beasley has a dream to create “Camp Lickalotta” franchises around the United States. She wants to create a place in every state where LGBT people and their friends and allies can enjoy recreation in peace.

Beasley insists that the very first “Camp Lickalotta” be located in North Carolina.