A mother and son have been ordered to pay $23,100 in damages to a gay couple they harassed and vilified during a bitter neighbourhood dispute that was sparked by barking dogs.
Queensland woman Jean Lawson and her son Paul Lawson must also publish a 140-word apology in local and state newspapers after calling their one-time neighbours, Timothy Wilson and Shane McCollum, "faggots", "poofs" and "princesses".
In the landmark ruling, Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found the Lawsons vilified their homosexual neighbours to further their case during a nasty dispute about Alsatian dogs and a boundary fence.
Mr Wilson and Mr McCollum, a high school teacher, say they were forced to move out of their rented home in Logan Central after nine months of harassment and humiliation.
While tribunal member Peter Roney noted both parties "gave as good as they got", the Lawsons were found to have harassed, embarrassed and vilified Mr Wilson and Mr McCollum by calling them derogatory names in reference to their homosexuality.
Relations between the residents nose-dived in August 2005, when Mr Wilson, a 45-year-old nurse's assistant who worked mostly at night, complained to the RSPCA and local council that Mrs Lawson's two Alsatians barked all day in their yard.
The tribunal heard that when Mrs Lawson, who is in her 60s, was notified of the complaint, she believed Mr Wilson had also told the council the dogs were being mistreated.
Months of taunts ensued from both sides, with Mr Roney noting the "extraordinary animosity" that resulted.
"There were accusations and counter-accusations suggesting verbal abuse, profanities, actual physical violence, intimidation, the making of numerous police complaints, the levelling of criminal charges each against the other, application for orders that others keep the peace and be of good behaviour, and other general acts of irritation and vindictiveness passing in each direction," he wrote in the tribunal judgment.
Mr Wilson and Mr McCollum alleged Mrs Lawson called them "faggots", "girls", "ladies" and "princesses" a number of times, as well as referring to the men as "poofs" in the presence of strangers.
Mr Lawson accused the pair of calling his mother a "Scottish slut", a "Jewish whore", a "mole" and a "bitch".
Mr Wilson, speaking from Sydney today, said he never made reference to Mrs Lawson's race or culture.
"I had sleepless nights and it really was scary because a lot of our friends wouldn't come and see us," he said.
Mr Wilson said he and Mr McCollum had received support from friends and family and members of the gay community, but also some abusive phone calls, calling him a "dirty faggot".
Mr Lawson said he did not want to comment on the tribunal's decision at this stage. Nor would he comment on whether Mrs Lawson would lodge an appeal against the decision.
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