A picturesque New England town is finding itself at the center of a contentious debate over a proposed ban on public art, following a dispute surrounding a mural with LGBTQ themes.
According to CBC News, Littleton, New Hampshire, a town nestled an hour’s drive from Quebec and known for its bustling shops and award-winning main street, is considering the drastic step of banning all forms of public art. This proposed ban would put an end to art exhibits in public parks and leave the local theatre company, Theatre UP, in limbo.
The controversy began this summer when a town councillor complained about a mural at a public meeting. The town manager, Jim Gleason, subsequently committed to consulting the town’s lawyers about the possibility of introducing restrictions on public art.
The mural in question was commissioned by local organizations, including a Pride group, with funds from a United Way diversity program. The artwork, displayed on a brick wall outside a Chinese restaurant, featured a rainbow-hued color wheel, trees, flowers, and was given titles like “We Belong.”
The town’s three-member council leans conservative, and one member, Carrie Gendreau, has been especially vocal in her opposition to the artwork. Gendreau, a conservative Christian and Republican who sits in the state legislature, told the Boston Globe, “Homosexuality is an abomination.”
At a town meeting in August, Gendreau urged residents to research the symbolism in the artwork, specifically referencing the rainbow outside the Chinese restaurant.
Gendreau’s views align with those of Jonathan Cahn, a doomsday prophet who claims that rainbows and eyeballs are demonic symbols. Cahn’s writing argues that the Stonewall riots of 1969, which launched the modern gay-rights movement, opened the floodgates to another realm, from which ancient pagan deities returned to Earth.
Courtney Vashaw, president of Theatre UP and a queer woman, spoke at a town meeting in September, stating, “I am a queer woman. I am married to a woman. And I have not been indoctrinated by Satan or demons.” Vashaw also highlighted the positive impact art has had on Littleton, attracting younger, wealthier, more educated residents.
The theatre group itself is facing uncertainty as it prepares to present La Cage Aux Folles, a classic play about a gay couple. At a meeting with town officials on October 10, the group was informed that their plan to renovate the historic building they lease from the town had hit a snag, their lease may not be renewed, and that the art ban was under real consideration.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the town manager, Jim Gleason, whose son, Patrick, was gay and passed away seven years ago from cancer. Gleason has been an advocate for freedom of speech and the First Amendment. At a recent council meeting, he shared a poignant story about a resident who wished his son would “be happy in hell with the devil, where he belongs.” Gleason urged residents to be considerate of each other’s feelings, drawing a vigorous ovation from the crowd.
The final decision on the proposed art ban rests with the municipal council, and as Gleason noted, “That’s the decision the [town council] will have to make.”