Columnists » Mickey Weems

Gay Is Not Okay in Bryan, Ohio

by Mickey Weems
Thursday Jun 14, 2012

Big Paul and Little Paul have a problem: they live in Bryan, Ohio.

Tucked in the northwest corner of the state, just a few miles from Indiana and Michigan, Bryan has a population of just under 9000 people.

Small towns like Bryan are praised for being Real America, with basic values of neighborliness and civic responsibility. For LGBT folks, however, those same ethics can become the stuff of nightmares if neighborliness excludes those who are different, and civic responsibility includes punishing people who are openly Gay.

Bear-Baiting in Bryan

"Big Paul" and "Little Paul" are the nicknames of Paul Dennison and Paul LeBel, a couple of out-and-proud Bears that chose to live in Bryan so Big Paul could be closer to his infirm mother.

Big Paul and Little Paul thought their neighbors would be at least indifferent to them. But Tea Party America has changed the dynamic from peaceful coexistence to righteous confrontation with Gay people, no matter how civic-minded, friendly or congenial those Gay people might be.

Big Paul found this out in November 2009 while working out at the local YMCA. Without any prior warning, he found himself accosted in the locker room and accused of taking pictures of an off-duty deputy sheriff without consent. The officer confiscated his camera on the spot, warrant be damned. Big Paul was forced to endure a detailed grilling in a YMCA office, no legal representation and against his will.

The next day, police searched the Pauls' apartment and took their shared computer. The Pauls report that the officers were looking for child porn. There were no pictures of the man who accused him in the first place, none on Big Paul's phone or anywhere else. What they found was Little Paul's collection of adult male erotica and some fuzzy locker room images of two men (taken and deleted at least 6 months earlier) in the computer's trash.

What should have been a fine and some public service for the locker room photos on the computer became much more. Big Paul was sentenced to three months in jail, three years probation and required to undergo sex offender counseling, even though he was not convicted as a sex offender.

No-Homo Hometown

So why was Big Paul treated so harshly? The Pauls give some examples of what openly Gay people face in the town where Big Paul grew up:

"Once when we lived in an apartment complex here in Bryan, Little Paul was out in the front yard working on his flower garden," said Big Paul. "Some teenagers rode by on their bicycles and yelled, 'fag' at him. That pissed me off. I called the cops, and they stopped by... I told them what happened but they said they couldn't do anything about it, [the kids] were on a public sidewalk and were exercising their right to free speech. When I told them I'd go to their house and talk to their parents, the cops then told me they'd have to arrest me for trespassing."

The Pauls spoke of an openly Gay worker at a local restaurant who was fired when some of the clientele considered his presence unacceptable. The official explanation: he did not state his sexual orientation in his paperwork.

Appeals Judge to Ohio's Sixth District, Stephen Yarborough, passed sentence in December 2010, four months after Big Paul lost his mother. Little Paul recounted the scene: "Yarbrough ruled Paul must serve 90 days in jail, undergo treatment as a sexual offender, serve 3 years probation, must not possess any pornography for three years... plus the requisite fines and court costs and an order to keep away from the plaintiffs and the YMCA. He also had to listen to Yarbrough pontificate about how Gay men should not go to the Young Men's Christian Association ... when [the judge] thought of Paul's case, he said all he could think about was his 4-year-old granddaughter and what would happen if someone took a picture of her at the YMCA and post it on the internet."

Monsters in the Closet

The problem for the Pauls is not so much being homosexual as it is being out of the closet. The YMCA is a great place, as the Village People tell us, to "hang out with all the boys." But the presence of an openly Gay man disturbs the undercurrent of same-sex encounters for dudes on the down-low. An openly Gay man is especially enticing yet threatening to public servants, be they firefighters, council members, clergy or police officers, who are scared shitless that others might find out they use the locker room as a haven away from wives where they can hook up with other guys.

One of the fears voiced by Paul's accuser was that pictures could be posted on the internet. This is a legitimate concern in principle, since unauthorized images of one's unclothed person online is a serious violation of privacy. But it would be especially excruciating for men trying to hide their own same-sex desires from public scrutiny, hence paranoia of what might happen, even when there was no evidence that it did. In too many Conservative minds, a homosexual man is a sex offender that just hasn't been caught yet, a sinner who is proud of his sinfulness, who would molest grown men and children alike if given the chance - in other words, it is a career-breaker.

Public servants would be quick to throw an un-closeted man (who might out them) to the wolves in order to protect their own. The Pauls strongly suspect this was the case since no images were put online, neither was there any kiddie porn. Yet these possibilities were brought up anyway as reasons for the charges and for the severity of the sentencing, lack of evidence notwithstanding.

Big Paul transgressed the boundaries by taking any pictures in the locker room without permission. But the only hard evidence, coming out of a computer's backup trash file from months before the supposed crime, does not warrant such excessive punishment. Such evidence does not excuse illegal search and seizure, nor does it make forced detention without legal representation okay.

Big Paul should not serve jail time simply because of what people fear he, as a gay man, might do to children..... or to closeted members of the YMCA workout facility.

Anyone who wants to contact Little Paul, please send him an email:

Dr. Mickey Weems is a folklorist, anthropologist and scholar of religion/sexuality studies. He has just published The Fierce Tribe, a book combining intellectual insight about Circuit parties with pictures of Circuit hotties. Mickey and his husband Kevin Mason are coordinators for Qualia, a not-for-profit conference and festival dedicated to Gay folklife. Dr. Weems may be reached at


  • rachel stone, 2012-06-15 11:42:42

    Thank you so much for releasing this! Big paul is my uncle and I would fight the world for him and have always stood by his side thru all of this! This is amazing and brought tears to my eyes!

  • Lauren K, 2012-06-15 12:23:22

    We encourage sympathetic souls to write words of encouragement to Big Paul. Contact Little Paul at the link in the article for more information.

  • Lauren K, 2012-06-20 14:13:53

    See the second paragraph about defamation tactics, and explore the reach of anti-gay religious hate groups.

  • , 2012-07-01 19:59:28

    Paul and Paul are my friends and I have felt their pain for the past three years after paul shared with me.I am honored that he trusted me to ask for help.I know what a kind and humble soul he is. Paul means HUMBLE and he has a laugh that comes from a kind place inside even during the darkest moments.I have written him to keep his hope alive.And I can’t wait for this storm to pass to give him a Big Bear Hug and hear him laugh and smile again.

  • , 2012-07-11 11:18:11

    Prejudice is alive and well throughout america. My heart goes out to the boys. When my partner and I moved here in Rock Hill Sc, the first week of our arrival was interesting. About four of our neighbors came by with the welcome to the neighborhood items u would expect in rural america. i.e. pie, baked goods, garden produce. I answered the door and welcomed them in. They asked if my wife was home and when i said "David, we have guests". the silence was deafening. They did leave the items and left within about fifteen minutes and have never spoken to us again (exception one older couple). Glad we are about to market our home and move back up north to Delaware.

  • , 2013-06-21 21:20:25

    I might be missing some subtlety here. As a gay man, I am still appalled that he took pictures of strangers, presumably revealing, unbeknownst to them. That is a crime. And the hard evidence - the files in the trash - was sufficient to establish the crime. Ok, fine, the suppositions of the town were ignorant. But, he was caught taking pictures, the police searched for more pictures, and they found them. This guy was taking nudies of strangers. So... why are we clouding this issue with narrative? Gay or not, he has a problem. 90 days with counseling seems actually pretty fair.

  • , 2013-06-22 01:02:26

    Intent goes a long way. The pictures themselves are NOT illegal by law. The intent behind taking them determines whether or not they are legal. If the intent was to use them sexually, post them online, or sell them, or blackmail, then yes, this is a crime. Someone who "has a problem" with this type of thing would have thousands of pictures found, not two. He was not caught taking pictures - he was arrested on the whim of a lying cop and found to have had taken two. That’s a pretty big difference. The closest possibility here was to use the pictures sexually, but ask any expert on this sort of thing, and they’ll tell you someone doing so would have thousands of such pictures. The officer violated 4th Amendment rights. There are no questions about that. Paul may not have used very good judgment here by any means, but the violations here - illegal search and seizure, illegal detainment, not reading Miranda Rights - were on the part of the Williams Co. Sheriff’s Dept.

  • , 2013-06-22 08:12:16

    You are mistaken on the legality. While you can always take a picture of whomever you want in any public space and it is not illegal, where there is a strong expectation of privacy (bathroom, locker room) and where people are in the act of taking advantage of that privacy (showering, changing, etc.), then it is absolutely illegal to take the picture (not as a Federal lay, but it is explicit or implicit in nearly every state). Also, the magnitude of the problem is not the issue. Serial illicit photography and episodic illicit photography are grades of the problem, but he showed poor judgement and had, indeed, been breaking a basic expectation of privacy for his own exploits. Also, he wasn’t forced to undergo a grilling at the YMCA. He could have left, or not said anything until he had a lawyer. Nobody can *make* you do anything. And his home was searched and there is nothing in the article that says the police did not have a warrant for that. Once again, I am not saying that the police and the town are wonderful people. They’re probably all homophobic scumbags. But, like it or not, he was busted taking nudies of strangers, and considering the town he lives in, 90 days with counseling seems pretty good to me.

  • , 2013-06-22 10:10:54

    The appeal document kind of says it all. Absolute violation of expected privacy, according to established case law: "The state argues that R.B.’s testimony demonstrated that the locker room was used with a subjective expectation of privacy. The state argues that such an expectation is also reasonable. We agree." No illegal detention: "There was no actual or constructive seizure of appellant by R.B. Appellant’s testimony demonstrates that he did not understand or believe he was under arrest in the locker room. Appellant testified that he did not know why R.B. took his phone. His concern was that he might lose his YMCA membership." No illegal search or seizure: "Under advice of counsel, appellant did sign a written waiver of Miranda rights and a written consent to search form. {ΒΆ 47} The form authorized search of the "premises and property" at 867 E. High Street (appellant’s residence) without a search warrant. The consent provided appellant’s consent "to take from my premises and property, any letters, papers, materials or any other property or things which they desire as evidence for criminal prosecution in the case or cases under investigation." The reason I am so adamant about this is because homophobia is real and awful, but if a person is guilty, and procedure is followed, they are guilty. We cheapen the fight against homophobia when we claim homophobia ALL THE TIME.

  • , 2014-07-24 08:08:43

    I knew Paul from years ago and he’s not innocent...I’ve known him to deceive and lie frequently as well as be obsessive compulsive. This whole experience for him is called Karma.

  • , 2014-07-24 08:17:04

    I believe Paul did wrong, got caught and he paid for it and is probably still paying for it, and I’m smiling over it. When I knew him he was very mean spirited, selfish and unkind. He was hurtful and generated a lot of pain in my life. He was so concerned with pornography and being the number one person in my life and others’ lives, terribly jealous of me having other friends. Please don’t make this guy a martyr, getting away from him was the second best thing I’ve ever done in my life!

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