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‘Words matter’: Facing harassment, Littleton town manager calls for an end to anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric

Main Street in Littleton, NH, during a March 2023 snowstorm. Mara Hoplamazian photo / NHPR
Mara Hoplamazian
Main Street in Littleton, NH, during a March 2023 snowstorm.

Littleton police are investigating after the town manager said he received a harassing message containing his photo and a homophobic insult. The incident came days after he announced plans to step down.

Jim Gleason said he received a red envelope in the mail, addressed to him with a newspaper clipping of his title, “Town Manager.” He said the mailing also contained a picture of him, with tear drops and a Hitler mustache drawn on, along with a slur.

It’s the latest in a string of vitriolic incidents Gleason has faced amid an ongoing debate over the role of public art and the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in Littleton. This most recent incident, Gleason said, gave him pause.

“When I left here Friday night, it was dark, the bank was closed, and probably the first time ever I stood at the doors before I left and just kind of looked around to see what cars were out there and if anybody was standing around,” Gleason recalled. “I mean, it just made me aware of something I never ever had done before.”

Littleton Police Chief Paul Smith said the alleged suspect, who he declined to name, turned themselves in and received a temporary restraining order, preventing them from contacting Gleason.

Smith said the same person previously confronted Gleason at the town offices with a hateful remark about his late son, who was gay.

At the time, the stage play Las Cage Aux Folles — a Tony Award-winning show about a gay couple — was set to run at the Littleton Opera House, which is owned by the town. Select Board Member and Republican State Sen. Carrie Gendreau spoke out against the play, calling it “disgusting” and saying “homosexuality is an abomination” in an interview with The Boston Globe.

Many residents pushed back on Gendreau’s comments, and the select board’s indecision around the town’s ongoing relationship with the theater group. But one person, Gleason said, approached him at the town offices and asked why he was allowing the play to run. During that exchange, Gleason said, the person told him she hoped his son was in hell.

Gleason said he has also received an email from a known white supremacist with hateful remarks about his son.

He said he believes the incidents are connected to the rhetoric coming from town leaders.

“We all know what's led up and we all know what this is,” Gleason said. “We all thought it was [about] art at one time, but it really was an attack on the LGBTQ community.”

Citing the strain of the last few months, Gleason plans to leave office at the beginning of February and return to Florida, where he has previously lived.

But he said Littleton still has to reconcile with the fallout from the debate of public art and the community.

“I think across this country, we need to be careful what words we use,” Gleason said. “Because there are a lot of people out there that are not stable and may take a word that you meant and may take some action that could end up harming somebody. We've seen it across the country.”

Littleton police said they are continuing to investigate. The New Hampshire Attorney General's office declined to comment, also citing the active investigation.

Corrected: January 23, 2024 at 7:27 PM EST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the name of Littleton's police chief. It has been corrected.
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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