LITTLETON, NH — Friday is the last day on the job for the city manager of a small New Hampshire community after an LGBTQ art display along the town’s Main Street sparked local controversy.
Jim Gleason, 65, has officially resigned after three artworks funded by the non-profit LGBTQ group North Country Pride drew the ire of state Sen. Kerry Gendreau, a town board member.
The art that went up on the side of a Chinese restaurant last summer featured a subtle rainbow symbolizing inclusion for the LGBTQ community. But Gendreau was not warm to the new art in his community.
“I don’t want this to happen in our city. I don’t want him here,” Gendreau He said at the meeting of the city board in August. Gleason reminded him that the city cannot control private property.
“If it’s on private property, I just know we have to make sure we’re not infringing on free speech and expression,” Gleason said.
A few weeks later, Gendreau spoke up The Boston Globe. Christian Gendreau told the Globe that he viewed the artwork “from a biblical perspective.” He also said there were “satanic hidden messages” and called homosexuality “an abomination”.
“That’s when it started for me personally,” Gleason said. (Gendreau did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.)
Gleason’s son Patrick came out to her when he was 16. Gleason, 65, vividly remembers the conversation he had with his son that day.
“I said, ‘I love both of my boys,'” recalled Gleason, who has another son. “I said, ‘But I have to love you a little more now because your life is going to be harder.'”
Gendreau’s comments to the Globe were harsh for Gleason, who lost his gay son to cancer in 2016.
“When you work with somebody and they say something nasty to a family member — that’s when it started,” Gleason said.
The tension dissipated and the artwork was left on a side street in Littleton. But the controversy reignited in October when news broke that the Tony Award-winning play about a gay couple, La Cage aux Folles, was coming to town.
Gleason said a local woman walked into his office and asked him to “stop the game.” When he said he couldn’t control what works were shown at the local opera house, the woman fired back with a personal attack, he said.
“He turned to walk away and came back and said, ‘You know, I read about your son, and I hope you’re happy that he’s in hell with the devil he belongs to,'” Gleason told NBC News.
“When you lose a child, the pain never goes away. You carry it every day,” he said. “To wake it up and tell me that my son, who is a wonderful and fantastic person, is in hell with the devil for being born? I will not agree with anyone.”
He decided to resign on January 8. Days later, on January 12, a suspicious package arrived in the mail.
When he finally opened it, he saw a picture of himself from the local newspaper, with the words “freak bastard” written on it. It came from a woman who walked into his office, police later admitted to sending it. According to court records, Gleason obtained a temporary restraining order against the woman.
Cathryn Oakley, CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the harassment Gleason faced was part of a troubling pattern across the country.
“Unfortunately, we see a broader trend across the country where we make efforts to characterize the existence of LGBTQ people and the existence of LGBTQ identity as inherently obscene, problematic, or disruptive to everyday life,” Oakley said of the uproar over the artwork.
Oakley said Gendreau’s “disgusting” comment was also part of a larger political trend, calling it part of the “super-right’s” effort to “turn even the recognition of LGBTQ people and our identities into something bad or vulgar.”
Gleason, who officially steps down after Friday, hopes his resignation will make a statement.
“I don’t see it as letting them win. I see it as making a statement,” Gleason said. “I think I gave those people more power so you don’t say you ran away or walked away from us. But now you are giving us a reason to continue the fight and not allow this to happen again.”
He hopes that his son is smiling down on him from heaven.
“I truly believe he looks at me and says, ‘Dad, you stick to what you taught us.’ And you stayed true to yourself. And I’m proud that you didn’t stand up and run and make a statement.”
CORRECTION (February 2, 2024, 10:51 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the dates Jim Gleason resigned from his position in Littleton, New Hampshire and received a suspicious package in the mail. It was January 8 and 12, respectively, not December 8 and 12.