New Hampshire town manager resigns after homophobic harassment

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LITTLETON, N.H. — Friday is the last day on the job for the town manager of a small New Hampshire community after an LGBTQ art display off the town’s Main Street kicked off a local controversy. 

Jim Gleason, 65, officially resigned after three pieces of art, sponsored by the nonprofit LGBTQ group North Country Pride, drew the ire of state Sen. Carrie Gendreau, who is also a member of the town board.

The art, which went up last summer on the side of a Chinese restaurant, featured a subtle rainbow, meant to symbolize inclusivity for the LGBTQ community. But Gendreau wasn’t warming to the new art in her community. 

“I don’t want that to be in our town. I don’t want it to be here,” Gendreau said at a town board meeting in August. Gleason reminded her that the town can’t police private property.

“If it’s on private property, I just know we need to make sure that we also weren’t violating freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” Gleason said. 

A few weeks later, Gendreau spoke to The Boston Globe. Gendreau, a Christian, told the Globe she was perceiving the artwork from a “biblical perspective.” She also said it had “demonic hidden messages” and called homosexuality an “abomination.” 

“That’s when it started for me personally,” Gleason said. (Gendreau didn’t reply to a request for comment from NBC News.)

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Gleason’s son Patrick came out to him when he was 16 years old. Gleason, 65, vividly remembers the conversation he had with his son that day. 

“I said, ‘I love both my boys,’” recalled Gleason, who has another son. “I said, ‘But I gotta love you a little harder now, because your life is gonna be tougher.’” 

Gendreau’s comments to the Globe were scathing for Gleason, who lost his gay son to a battle with cancer in 2016.

Littleton Town Manager Jim Gleason alongside a cutout of his late son, Patrick Gleason.
Littleton Town Manager Jim Gleason alongside a cutout of his late son Patrick Gleason.Alex Tabet / NBC News

“When you’re working with someone, and they call a family member an abomination — that’s kind of when it started,” Gleason recalled. 

The tension fizzled, and the artwork remained on the side street in Littleton. But in October, when news spread that a Tony award-winning play about a gay couple, “La Cage aux Folles,” was coming to town, the controversy reignited.

Gleason recounted that a local woman burst into his office and pleaded with him to “stop the play.” When he told her he couldn’t control which productions were featured in the local opera house, he said, the woman fired back with a personal attack.

“She turned to walk away, and she turned back and she said, ‘You know, I read about your son, and I just hope you’re happy he is in hell with the devil where he belongs,’” Gleason told NBC News.

“When you lose a child, the pain never goes away. You carry it every day,” he said. “And to have that evoked and to tell me that my son, who was a beautiful and fantastic person, was in hell with the devil because of how he was born? I’ll disagree with anybody.”

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He decided to resign on Dec. 8. Days later, on Dec. 12, he received a suspicious package in the mail. 

When he finally opened it, he found a photo of himself from the local paper with the words “queer bastard” scrawled on it. It had come from the woman who burst into his office, who police later said she admitted sending it. Gleason ended up getting a temporary restraining order against the woman, according to court records. 

Cathryn Oakley, a senior director with the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the harassment Gleason faced is part of a troubling pattern across the country.

“We are, unfortunately, seeing a larger trend throughout the country in which we’re seeing efforts to characterize the existence of LGBTQ people and the existence of LGBTQ identity as being inherently obscene, problematic or disruptive to everyday life,” Oakley said, referring to the uproar that stemmed from the artwork. 

Gleason looks at the artwork that started the controversy in Littleton, N.H.
Jim Gleason in Littleton, N.H.Alex Tabet / NBC News

Oakley said Gendreau’s “abomination” comment is also part of a larger political trend, casting it as part of an effort by the “super far right” to make “even the acknowledgment of LGBTQ people and our identities into something that is nefarious or gross or vulgar.”

Gleason, who officially leaves his post after Friday, hopes his resignation makes a statement. 

“I don’t view it as letting them win. I view it as making a statement,” Gleason said. “I think I’ve empowered those people more, to not say you’re running or you’re moving away from us. But now you’re giving us a reason to continue to fight and not let this happen again.” 

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He hopes his son is smiling down on him from heaven. 

“I really do believe he’s looking at me and saying: ‘Dad, you stay true to what you taught us. And you stayed true to yourself. And I’m proud of the fact that you stood up and didn’t run and you made a statement,’” he said.

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