New Hampshire town’s manager resigns over homophobic attacks

Littleton, New Hampshire Board of Selectmen, from left: Carrie Gendreau, Vice-Chair Linda MacNeil, Chair Roger Emerson and Town Manager Jim Gleason in a meeting last Fall. (Screenshot/YouTube Granite State PBS)

There was no apology instead the Town Manager Jim Gleason stepped down from his position, citing the pain he said he experienced during the controversy. Gleason said he has been subject to hateful remarks about his late son, who was gay.

LITTLETON, N.H. | Angry residents of picturesque Littleton, New Hampshire gathered this past Monday demanding an apology for the homophobic remarks made by select board member Carrie Gendreau who called “homosexuality an abomination” and accused a local theatre company of pushing “demonic” pro-LGBTQ+ messages.

“I’ve been here almost three years, and, yes, I’m an outsider when I came and still the guy from Florida and whatever,” Gleason said in an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio. “This is a beautiful community. There are some great people in this community that I’ve got to work with.”

This past summer, North Country Pride, which hosts an annual Pride Festival in the town, collaborated with local artists and the United Way to install the murals. While the artwork generated mostly positive feedback from the community, they led the three-person board to consider banning all public art.

Board member Carrie Gendreau, a conservative Republican who is also a state Senator, first complained about the murals at a town board meeting in August. Gendreau elaborated to The Boston Globe that she believes “homosexuality is an abomination” and explained that she follows to the writings of doomsday cultist Jonathan Cahn. 

Among Cahn’s fringe theories is a belief that rainbows are demonic symbols that power the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, who wants vengeance on Christianity for marginalizing her.

The board, which leans conservative even though the town voted nearly 50-50 Biden-Trump in 2020, wanted to ban all LGBT art, but found that there wasn’t a way they could do that without running afoul of anti-discrimination and free speech laws. So instead, the board announced they would consider banning all art in public places.

The murals aren’t the only queer art in the town board’s sights. 

A local production of the classic gay musical La Cage Aux Folles in the town Opera House has also been the target of attempted censorship by the town board.

The 1983 Tony Award-winning musical by Jerry Harmon and Harvey Fierstein tells the story of a gay couple who own a drag nightclub and try to pretend to a be a straight couple when their son becomes engaged to the daughter of a conservative politician. It was adapted into the 1996 film The Birdcage. 

Theatre UP President Courtney Vashaw says the company was inspired to put on La Cage after far-right protestors disrupted a drag queen story hour at the local library.

After Monday’s meeting and his resignation, Gleason told NHPR he hopes that, with his departure, the board and community will be able to move forward.

At the meeting, select board Chair Roger Emerson said the board was never planning to ban public art. Emerson and Gendreau suggested the idea could have come from Theatre UP leaders and possibly Gleason.

Gleason told NHPR he feels a review of art still places the town in a predicament.

“I will say nowhere in any email from the Board of Selectmen or in public comment did they ever use the word ‘ban,’ ” Gleason said. “But when someone says, ‘we need to do something to ensure that this art on these private buildings doesn’t make it onto public property’ – that to me is a ban. Because the board has two choices: They cannot regulate content, so they either allow it or they don’t.”

Kerri Harrington, co-chair of North Country Pride, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ people in the area, told NHPR it’s been a difficult chapter for Littleton and that Monday’s meeting was a bit of a shock to not receive an apology. The meeting also closed with a reading by Gendreau, in which Harrington said people walked out on feeling upset by its contents.

“People were angry and sad, and it’s been really rough, it’s not been feeling great around here,” Herrington said. “Now we’re in a predicament because we’re not going to have a town manager.”

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