The town manager of Littleton, N.H., Jim Gleason, has resigned from his job, citing a “toxic work environment” and anti-LGBTQ remarks made by a member of the Select Board.
Gleason, whose late son was gay, told the Select Board at Monday’s meeting he was resigning. The news was met with shock and sadness by some residents in attendance, as the town continues to grapple with the controversy.
His resignation comes after months of tension in Littleton over public art and the inclusion of pro-LGBTQ artwork. It began after Select Board member Carrie Gendreau who is also a state senator, spoke out against three paintings displayed on the side of a private downtown building that contained a pro-LGBTQ message. One depicts a white iris in front of a rainbow color wheel, the second shows two birch trees, and the third shows dandelions growing from the pages of a book.
In an interview, Gleason said the months of controversy took a personal and professional toll on him, especially after the town learned his late son was gay.
“I just decided that it had become too personal and too painful, and it was best if I moved on, and the town moved in a different direction,” he said. He said his son Patrick, who was gay, died from cancer seven years ago at 35 years old.
Gleason submitted a written resignation and summarized the events leading to his decision, starting with Gendreau’s comments during an Aug. 28 Select Board meeting, which were critical of art on private property. “This led to a turbulent and emotional period for me, both personally and professionally,” Gleason wrote.
“I don’t want that in our town,” Gendreau said about the paintings at the August meeting, urging the board “to be very careful about what kind of artwork goes up.” Gleason said he came to believe Gendreau’s issue wasn’t with the artwork, but with the pro-LGBTQ group that helped support it.
In an October interview with the Globe about why she opposed the artwork, Gendreau said she believes homosexuality is an “abomination.”
Gleason wrote hearing her October comments was another blow.
“This deeply hurt me and my family, as my late son Patrick was gay,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “Carrie never apologized or addressed this issue and continued to use derogatory language like ‘queer’ in my presence.”
In October, Gleason said Littleton resident Jean Chouinard came to the town office to protest a local production of the play “La Cage aux Folles,” a Tony Award-winning musical comedy about a gay couple that helped mainstream LGBTQ+ representation on Broadway.
Gleason wrote that Chouinard made inappropriate remarks about his son. “She said she hoped I was happy Patrick was in hell with the devil where he belonged,” Gleason wrote. Another town employee who witnessed the exchange independently confirmed Gleason’s account.
When reached on the phone, Chouinard denied she said that and called it “bull----” She declined to say what her remarks to Gleason were, but acknowledged going to the town office and speaking to him about her concerns with the play.
“He’s just trying to make a big issue out of nothing,” she said.
Asked about Gleason’s resignation, she said, “It’s not my fault. Don’t blame it on me. If he can’t take the heat, then he shouldn’t be there.”
Gleason said the months of controversy became too much.
“This situation has persisted far longer than it should have, and it has created a toxic work environment that I am no longer willing to endure,” Gleason wrote. “The emotional pain inflicted on my family, particularly regarding my late son, is unbearable. Patrick was a beloved family member and a positive influence on everyone who knew him, not an abomination.”
Gleason was hired as town manager in March 2021 and said his last day will be Feb. 2. He plans to return to his family and friends in Florida, where he worked as a town manager before moving to Littleton.
“I wish the Town of Littleton, its residents, and businesses nothing but the best and future success. It is a beautiful community, and I hope that you can come together to eliminate discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ Community and their allies,” he said.
Gendreau has stood by her comments about LGBTQ+ people. On Monday, she read from a statement taking issue with societal acceptance around gender transitions, claiming it’s problematic to allow people to change gender, when people aren’t allowed to identify with a different race or disability.
The statement she read from was aired on a far-right news outlet in 2017 by Liz Wheeler on One America News.
“If children have a right to parents providing for them and a man identifies as a child because he feels he has a child trapped in an adult body, if we’re playing by these twisted, disordered, ridiculous rules where illusion and emotions trump objective truth, are we violating his rights by refusing him the love and care and financial support every child deserves? Just something for liberals to think about before they push the boundaries of identity politics past the point of no return,” Wheeler said, in part.
Parts of the same speech were audible when Gendreau addressed the public, but others were drowned out by boos, shouting, and crying.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Wheeler argued in 2017 and Gendreau repeated.
Gleason gave his resignation before Gendreau’s remarks, but said he had gone into Monday’s meeting hopeful the board would “pour water on the fire instead of gasoline.”
But after the meeting, he said, he thinks things may have gotten even worse.
“It was really profoundly hurtful,” Littleton resident Kerri Harrington said about Gendreau’s comments. Harrington runs North Country Pride, a group that supports LGBTQ+ residents and the same group that sponsored the murals. She said she was shocked and saddened by the resignation of Gleason, who she called a good leader and a good friend.
“I was hurting for him,” she said. “He was hurting.”
Littleton resident Duane Coute echoed Harrington’s surprise. Coute, the general manager of Littleton Chevrolet, has been organizing business leaders to pressure the Select Board to make a statement in support of LGBTQ+ people and the arts.
He said he was shocked and dismayed by Monday’s meeting. He said the problem should never have been allowed to linger for so long.
“There are a lot of people that are afraid. There are a lot of people that have a lot at stake in our community, from a personal aspect, from a business aspect. And this isn’t good publicity for the town of Littleton,” he said.
Gendreau’s message resonated with at least one person: known New Hampshire white supremacist Ryan J. Murdough, who founded the New England White Network, sent Gleason an email early Tuesday with the subject line that read “Hail Carrie Gendreau.” His message simply read, “Your son is an abomination.”
Gendreau did not respond to a request for comment about Murdough or Gleason’s resignation.
Harrington said that is a troubling turn. “We have to put an end to this because it’s really frightening and it’s very painful for people,” she said.
At Monday’s meeting, Select Board Chair Roger Emerson made a brief comment denying the board had ever considered an art ban. “We just can’t seem to get that horse to go away,” he said. “Wherever that came from, it wasn’t from us.” He did not respond to a request for comment on this story. The other Select Board member, Linda MacNeil, pointed to a statement she made in October about the importance of arts and diversity in Littleton. “Whether we agree with the content or not, art is part of the fabric of history and should not be censored,” she said at the time.
Gleason said he hopes his departure sparks dialogue in the town. There is one comfort, he said, amidst all the pain. He grew emotional speaking about his son: “If we were able to talk to each other, he would say, ‘Dad, I’m proud of you.’”