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North Country business leaders urge Littleton select board to proclaim support for LGBTQ+ community, public art

A LGBTQ flag hangs off a store front on Littleton's main street
Casey McDermot
/
NHPR
The leaders of the coalition plan to present an open letter to the select board and ask them to make a public statement apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community. They also plan to ask for some resolution on a potential art ban.

Over one thousand people — including several prominent North Country businesses — have signed onto an open letter criticizing the Littleton select board’s handling of recent discussions about public art by and about LGBTQ+ people.

“Why is the municipal leadership of our town pursuing a path so detrimental to business without input from the business community?” the letter reads. “While the negative impact to our local economy is a major concern, most important to us is the harmful impact the comments and actions of a few will have on the fabric of our community. Our neighbors. Our coworkers. Families. Friends.”

Leaders of that coalition were planning to deliver the letter and make their voices heard at the latest board meeting Monday, but that meeting was postponed “due to public safety,” according to a notice on the town’s website. The next select board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 8.

In recent months, Select Board Member and Republican State Sen. Carrie Gendreau has criticized murals put up by North Country Pride and a local theater troupe’s production of a show centered on LGBTQ+ characters, calling it “disgusting.” The board has since discussed potential restrictions on all public art and opted to put its longstanding contract with that theater group up to a town-wide vote.

Hundreds have shown up to protest those actions at recent public meetings. But the open letter reflects an even broader effort to rally public support against any potential art restrictions and in solidarity with the local LGBTQ+ community.

Duane Coute, a lifelong North Country resident and general manager of Littleton Chevrolet, helped to draft the letter. He regards Littleton and surrounding towns as the jewel of New Hampshire, and said the comments and actions as of late by select board members doesn't speak to the community's values.

“The hurtful things that were said and things that aren’t being said really put a black eye on the town,” Coute said.

The leaders of the coalition plan to present the letter to the board and ask them to make a public statement apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community. They also plan to ask for some resolution on the potential art ban.

“It's hurting the business community,” Coute said. “It's hurting the community in general. And we're asking the board to take a step back [and] follow up on the art decision. Are you banning art? Are you not banning art? And apologize to the people that you've hurt really bad.”

Coute said he has lived in the area for most of his life, settling into Littleton after he finished college in 1992. He remembers what Littleton was like when many storefronts were vacant, and he said the town’s revival came from careful planning and a willingness to work collaboratively. He worries that progress could fade, if the recent controversy continues to escalate.

“We had an opportunity to change things,” Coute said. “It was either going to be: Go crawl in your hole and don't do anything, or roll your sleeves up and put your differences aside and get to work. And that's what happened.”

Since the letter, Coute said that he’s received messages almost every day from people expressing their gratitude and that’s generated a lot of conversations.

“I just want to clarify, this is not a political movement or political statements,” Coute said. “Our statements are about community [...] and about business and in bringing everybody in unifying, diversifying, [and] having respect for each other.”

Olivia joins us from WLVR/Lehigh Valley Public Media, where she covered the Easton area in eastern Pennsylvania. She has also reported for WUWM in Milwaukee and WBEZ in Chicago.
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