August 29, 2012 at 9:45 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Roanoke auto shop fights anti-gay vandalism

Jordan Addison, pictured with his parents Ronald and Rachel Fowler, found support from a Virginia auto body shop after his car was vandalized. (Photo courtesy of Addison)

Jordan Addison, 21, a second-year student at Virginia’s Radford University, said he became alarmed and discouraged when unidentified vandals defaced his car with an anti-gay slur, smashed the windshield, and slashed two tires in four separate incidents between March and May.

The first incident occurred late at night when his car was parked in front of his parents’ mountainside house in the rural town of Max Meadows, located about 60 miles southwest of Roanoke.

The other three incidents occurred while his car was in the parking lot outside his dorm on the Radford campus, which is located about 30 miles west of Roanoke.

“We have no idea who could have done it,” Addison told the Blade.

While the identity of the vandals remains a mystery, he said he’s certain he was targeted because he’s an out gay man.

Addison said he became even more discouraged when auto body shops near his parents’ home and near the college told him it would cost as much as $3,000 or more to remove the words “fag die” that one or more vandals scraped into the driver’s side door of his 1999 Volkswagen Passat.

“I actually called one place and I said I need to get my door repainted,” Addison told the Blade. “And he said, oh, that will be about $600. And then I showed up and his estimate went up to a little over $3,000.”

Addison said his parents, fellow students, and faculty members chipped in to help cover the costs of replacing the shattered front windshield and two slashed tires. But he said the high cost of having the “fag die” slur removed from the side of the car was more than he could afford. His insurance policy didn’t include a “comprehensive” provision needed to cover that type of damage.

“So I was in the middle of don’t go back to class and don’t drive your car or drive your car back,” with the slur visible for everyone to see, “and go to class and keep your grades up. And that’s what I chose.”

In a turn of events that Addison describes as astonishing and heartwarming, an auto body shop manager in Roanoke named Richard “J.R.” Henegar Jr., who learned about Addison’s plight from a friend who works at Radford University, took action on Addison’s behalf.

A Navy veteran who’s straight and married, Henegar summoned Addison to bring the car to Quality Auto Paint and Body Shop in Roanoke, which is owned by Henegar’s father. At his own expense, Henegar obtained a rental car for Addison’s use while he said he would arrange to remove the anti-gay slur from the side of the car.

“I saw his car and I said this is uncalled for and I’m going to take care of your car,” Henegar told the Blade.

Without telling Addison, Henegar contacted 10 other businesses, most auto body shops in the Roanoke area, and persuaded them to share the costs and provide parts needed to do a major overhaul of the car in addition to removing the slur etched into the paint.

Among other things, Henegar had the entire car repainted, installed new tires, tinted windows, a new security alarm system and a new stereo. He said the total cost came to more than $10,000 and involved at least 100 hours of labor, which he said he and the other businesses that helped him performed after regular business hours and on weekends.

When the work was finished Henegar arranged for a local vendor to screen print T-shirts with an anti-bullying message that he modeled after the logo of an anti-bullying organization he discovered online.

“I told him about the story and he didn’t charge me a dime,” Henegar said of the T-shirt vendor. “He had all the T-shirts printed. There was a big circle with a line through it that said bullies. On the back it said special thanks to all our vendors and it had a list of the vendors.”

Henegar then invited one of the local TV news stations to come to his shop to cover what he said would be Addison’s “homecoming”— his shop’s official presentation of the completed car to Addison, who knew nothing of what was about to happen.

“He just completely blew my mind,” said Addison in describing his emotions when he and his partner arrived at the shop and discovered the overhauled car.

“He breaks so many stereotypes because he’s a straight guy but he’s helping me out and I’m a gay male,” Addison said. “He has tattoos everywhere but he’s like a science nerd and he’s such a sweet person. It blows my mind that people like him live where I’m from.”

Addison added, “He’s just so kind and brave and put so much work into something for someone he’d never met.”

Henegar, who’s in line to take over the shop when his father retires, said his father and the shop’s 10 employees supported his efforts.

“We just wanted to bring some attention to bullying and make people aware that it’s uncalled for,” he said. “And we’re a small business in the South and we’re not going to stand for it.”

The Aug. 20 video coverage by WDBJ 7 TV News in Roanoke of Addison’s stunned expression when he saw his spruced up car at the Quality Auto Paint and Body shop quickly circulated nationally and internationally online.

Henegar said within days of news broadcast by the TV station, the video went viral, prompting hundreds of people to send emails and phone messages praising the shop for helping someone in need.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • A heartwarming and awesome story!

  • It seems that more often these days when a hate monger pops up, there are more decent people popping up to counter them. I wish the Henegar family nothing but the best for their generosity.

  • Yes, this is yet another report of community progress this summer for our LGBT neighbors in the ‘far reaches’ of Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge– in that now ‘purpling’ state– just across the river…

    It is a terrific story of the ongoing struggle for equality and respect by LGBT people and their straight friends and neighbors in generally politically conservative, smaller cities and towns of rural America. But it also illustrates how hard it is to understate the widespread ripple effect, just in the past three years+, of President Obama’s fierce LGBT civil rights advocacy

    Consider the Obama Administration’s legislative pursuits, the president’s executive orders and his publicly stated personal support for marriage equality. As a byproduct of the president’s persistent LGBT equality advocacy, the Obama Administration has tacitly encouraged the many good straight folks of these more quiet, conservative areas to step out of their own closet of fear to take action. These good people are coming to the very public defense of their LGBT family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and students.

    That may be new milestone in American LGBT civil rights history, I think.

    Let’s hope this story also spurs Radford University administrators to take serious action to prevent future anti-LGBT hate crimes and bullying on its campus. And let’s hope the Commonwealth’s legislators in Richmond– both Republican and Democrat– realize it is long past time to add LGBTs to Virginia’s existing hate crimes law.

    Thanks to the Blade for continuing to cover LGBT rights progress in rural America.

  • Something smells about this one. Much like a couple others recently? It’s too perfect, and the supposed, mean spirited comment etched by supposed mean spirited people, isn’t even something they would write?
    We’ll wait and see when he gets caught “vandalizing” his own vehicle, if the deceived auto body shops decide they want their money back? I know we would!

  • You just can’t let something nice go without smearing it with your hatred, can you, Waldo.

    I grew up on a farm near Max Meadows and I can assure you had anyone around there known I was gay at the time, they would have done far worse to me (they *did* do far worse to a poor gay man who was known at the time) than to deface my ride.

    Thank you Junior Henegar for rising above the baser aspects of the human spirit to embody compassion and justice. Thanks to all the vendors who helped. I am proud of the Commonwealth today.

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