Littleton Town Manager Resigns Over LGBTQ Art Debate: ‘It’s Been Very Hurtful’

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Paula Tracy photo

Littleton Town Manager Jim Gleason, left, announced he is resigning at Monday's selectmen's meeting. To his right are selectmen Roger Emerson, chairman, Linda MacNeil, and Carrie Gendreau.

Littleton Town Manager Jim Gleason resigned Monday and received a standing ovation for his work during the selectmen’s meeting at the Littleton Opera House. Paula Tracy photo

Correction: Jim Gleason’s son died from cancer in 2016.


LITTLETON – In a town besieged by lingering issues of inclusion, gay rights and public art, Town Manager Jim Gleason announced his resignation at the Littleton Board of Selectmen meeting Monday while selectmen said they have no plans to “ban art” and said they never said that.

Yet Selectman Carrie Gendreau, who is also a Republican state Senator, did call homosexuality an “abomination,” and has stood by that and said she didn’t want an LGBTQ+ sponsored mural in her town in August of 2023.

Courtney Bowler, a resident holding a baby in her arms said, “I hope at the least as board members you can take this as a learning minute that your personal beliefs are not to be your platform when you are in an elected position. You have hurt and offended many people…we’ve lost people…You created that.”

Others said that members of the board have taken no blame for the black eye the town has received nationally and should resign. 

Kerri Harrington said the controversy “was not about art. It was about hate for the LGBTQ community.” 

And she thanked Gleason for his service and said she was sorry he was leaving to a standing ovation.

Resident Rudy Gelsi asked Gleason what was the reason, imploring him to tell the roughly 80 people there why he was taking this action.

“I’m tired of what has been going on,” Gleason said. “It’s been very hurtful.”

Gelsi said in his years in the town, Gleason has been exceptional.

“This gentleman here is the best of the best,” he said to applause from those gathered at the Littleton Opera House.

The three-member board of selectmen was silent and did not comment on the announced resignation.

The controversy began when Gendreau made public comments Aug. 28, 2023.

One man who did not identify himself but said he was a resident, said he was concerned about the impacts of gay rights on children.

He said the town used to have a creche at the library, but can no longer.

Parades, he said, are no longer parades but chanting, “We’re here, we are queer and we are here for your children,” he said to “boos” from the crowd.

Gleason told this fall that soon after Gendreau’s comments were made public, a woman came into his office demanding that the town act on removing LGBTQ art, which is on a private building. He said she referred to his late son, who was gay and died from cancer in 2016, saying that his son belonged to be “where he is.”

“My son is not an ‘abomination,'” Gleason said when he received a standing ovation during the public comment section.

Gleason served the town for almost three years and brought an elevated level of professionalism to the job, said Bethlehem Town Administrator Mary Moritz.

She said he has acted above the fray in this situation which has lingered too long.

The meeting Monday night followed almost six months of unrest in the region over Gendreau’s comments.

Duane P. Coute, general manager of Littleton Chevrolet, helped to organize a letter signed by 1,066 which reads that Gendreau’s comments did not represent the historic inclusivity and creative cultural climate of the town and was damaging its reputation. 

It calls for inclusivity and support for the arts and human diversity in Littleton. 

Also, another letter underscoring the importance of arts and diversity in Littleton was sent by the entire state Congressional delegation and signed by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Congresswoman Annie Kuster and Congressman Chris Pappas, all Democrats. 

At a Dec. 27, 2023, event gathered by business leaders, many speakers said the time is now to put this matter behind the town.

Selectmen in neighboring Bethlehem and Franconia have both passed resolutions of inclusion for all and have spoken out against the language used following Gendreau’s comments related to a series of murals on private property sponsored by North Country Pride. A vandal attacked a mailbox at the home of one of the Franconia selectmen following the signed resolution. 

Nancy Strand, a member of the Bethlehem Select Board, spoke at the Dec. 27 gathering as an individual, not as an elected leader when she said, “Bethlehem needs Littleton. Many of us work, shop and attend events here. You are our brethren and we care what happens here. Although recent events may seem negative, I see an opportunity…to make things better.”

“I encourage anyone who thinks they might run for office to do so,” she said. 

Gleason came to Littleton in April, 2021 after serving a number of city manager jobs in Florida and Georgia, according to his LinkedIn account.

Gleason was City Manager in Masscotte, Fla. for nine years and prior to that city manager in Chamblee, Georgia.

Waiting on a direction on the matter of public art is the local Theatre Up community group which has been awarded a $1 million grant but has been using the town-owned Opera House the past few years.

They have a chance to create a permanent home and have another property in mind in town.

Just after the comments about the mural, Gendreau criticized the group’s selection of the production La Cage Aux Folles in November, a Broadway musical about a gay couple set in St. Tropez.

Lynne Grigelevich, executive director of the 44-year-old theatre group, said it was exploring the extension of its lease, which ends in May, 2024 when she was told by Gleason that it was unlikely to be supported by the current board.

He said he spoke with each of the three selectmen individually prior to the meeting with Theatre Up, who expressed varying degrees of concern about its upcoming production choice and noted the legal opinion being sought.

“Given the uncertainty surrounding the future as it relates to a potential ban on art in public places in Littleton, Theatre UP is holding off on any plans to move forward at this time,” with efforts to extend the lease at the Opera House, a venue it has used over the past 10 years, the group’s statement reads.

Grigelevich said unfortunately, the theatre group cannot work with the town, with “the ability to censor anything we do…so yes, we have to look elsewhere,” for a more permanent venue.

“We were told that a public art ban is still a possibility, and the Board of Selectman is seeking counsel from an attorney on this matter. If such a ban was passed, we would most certainly be impacted as an organization doing performance art in a public space.”

Gendreau has maintained her public statements about three murals on a private downtown building which she said do not belong in her town because of their LGBTQ+ theme.

She cites her deep religious beliefs and has noted publicly that she is a follower of Jonathan Cahn, a Messianic Jewish pastor from New Jersey who holds a doomsday philosophy and opposes abortion and gay rights. Cohn cites the Stonewall riots of 1969 in Greenwich Village, considered pivotal in the emergence of the modern-day gay pride movement as opening a portal to “demonic” forces and that the end of the world is near.

Gendreau is a first term state senator who took the seat when Erin Hennessey left the post and won in September, 2022 over Democrat former state Rep. Edith Tucker of Randolph.

Selectman Chair Roger Emerson said he has been watching and listening and people went to the newspapers.

In November, he said nobody has said the word ‘ban art’ in Littleton. 

“We just can’t seem to get those words to go away. It was never our intention.”

Gendreau said “we understand that art is critically important. Why would we ban something like that?”

She said after a meeting with Theatre Up. “They view it as a ban” meaning Theatre Up. 

“The selectboard did not say we were going to ban art. There is no art ban, period.”

Gendreau said it is important to differentiate art on private property.

On private land, she said, “Go for it…I would hope that you use discretion.”

Emerson said there were certain people who did not want Littleton to enjoy the holidays.

“Boos” were heard.

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