Wilton Board of Selectmen members (L-R) Ross Tartell, Kim Healy and Bas Nabulsi at the Wilton Pride event June 2022 Credit: Lori Buchanan Photography / GOOD Morning Wilton

At the Monday, Jan. 9 meeting of the Board of Selectmen (BOS), the board resumed discussion of the Town’s existing Civility, Respect and Understanding (CRU) Proclamation along with its policies on other proclamations and banners at Town Hall.

The topic came to the forefront last June when a group of residents sought a proclamation by the Town in support of Wilton’s LGBTQIA+ community for Pride Month. As GOOD Morning Wilton reported, the request for that proclamation was denied on the basis that it fell outside the criteria First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice uses to approve or deny requests for proclamations.

Officials did approve posting a Pride Month banner on Town Hall’s front lawn when the residents submitted a new request together with a local non-profit — the Girl Scouts — in accordance with the required criteria.

Even after Pride Month, some residents kept up the pressure on the BOS to make a proclamation explicitly for Wilton’s LGBTQIA+ community. More recently, after filing to become an official nonprofit, Wilton Pride sent a letter to the BOS again seeking a separate proclamation to coincide with Pride Month in June.

An Existing Framework

At the Jan. 9 meeting, Vanderslice presented a document outlining the existing framework that has guided recent decisions on banners and proclamations.

Vanderslice noted that the Town Charter does not “explicitly authorize the Board of Selectmen nor the First Selectman to hang banners or issue proclamations on behalf of nonprofits.” However, she described “allowing banners [as] a service to the nonprofits providing them with a public space to share information about their event.”

Under the current banner policy, Wilton nonprofit organizations may hang one banner per year on the front lawn of Town Hall to advertise an event. An approved banner may be displayed for up to two weeks, consistent with Wilton’s temporary sign regulations.

For proclamations — which are considered government speech — the key criterion for approval is whether the subject of the proclamation is directly related to the work of a Town department.

Vanderslice said clear policies are necessary.

“If there is no policy, the act of hanging a qualified nonprofit banner puts the Town at risk of having to hang any banner for which it receives a request,” Vanderslice said in her presentation.

Similarly, without a policy restricting proclamations to those related to the function of a Town department, Vanderslice said the Town would be “at risk of having to issue a proclamation on any matter.”

Vanderslice cited a number of proclamation requests that were denied in 2022 in addition to the Pride proclamation. They included: National Sanctity of Life Day; National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children; National Religious Freedom Day; National Breast Cancer Awareness Month; and childhood cancer awareness.

While the selectmen agreed that clear criteria are needed for proclamations and banners, at least two selectmen — Bas Nabulsi and Ross Tartell — felt an LGBTQIA+ proclamation could be judged to meet the criteria.

The selectmen agreed to keep the current proclamation policy in place but suspend the banner program temporarily, while Vanderslice consults Town counsel for further guidance.

CRU Affirmed, Without Changes

Though invited by Vanderslice to suggest changes that the BOS could consider for the CRU, the selectmen opted to keep the wording of the proclamation unchanged and voted unanimously to affirm it:

“We the Selectmen of Wilton, Connecticut do hereby affirm our Town’s commitment to strive for civility, respect and understanding, and to value the diversity of those who live and work and visit Wilton, without regard to gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, national origin, ethnicity, disability, political views, or social or economic status.”

“We encourage all of our citizens to participate fully in our town government as envisioned in our Town Charter. Our commitment to inclusion of all citizens informs our values and enriches our community.

We further resolve that the principles of civility, respect and understanding will guide the actions we take as Selectmen.”

Going forward, the BOS will vote to re-affirm the CRU every year, in January. Vanderslice is also recommending all BOS-appointed boards and commissions be required to adopt the proclamation.

Unsatisfied Residents

A number of residents came forward to offer comment — some who wrote to the BOS in advance of the meeting, and others who spoke during the public comment portion of the Jan. 9 meeting — but all in support of further action by the BOS.

Steve Hudspeth sent a letter to the board “on the wisdom of having a Wilton Pride proclamation.” Referring to the current CRU statement, Hudspeth wrote, “That’s quite a comprehensive statement. But is more needed?” given what he sees in other states as a “race to the bottom” consisting of efforts “adding further restrictions and generally letting it be known that residents of their state who are LGBTQ+ are second-class citizens.”

“I strongly urge you to adopt a proclamation specifically in support of the LGBTQ+ members of our community, current and future, and to do so now,” Hudspeth wrote to the BOS. “An observer of wrongful acts who fails to respond risks becoming a bystander no matter how virtuous his or her intentions to be an upstander may otherwise be.”

Michelle Hagerty wrote to the BOS in support of the proclamation sought by Wilton Pride.

“The ‘Proclamation of Civility, Respect and Understanding’ is a wonderful start to the efforts to create a community of support, inclusion, and mutual respect in a constructive way,” Hagerty wrote. “This [proposed Wilton Pride] proclamation, as with others, is a way to reinforce these values.”

Olga Zargos-Traub also submitted a letter to the board, expressing support for a standalone Wilton Pride proclamation in addition to affirming the CRU. Referring to “pervasive anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and hate,” Zargos-Traub said she believes it is necessary to go beyond the CRU “to proclaim and acknowledge publicly the human rights of all people… A specific Wilton Pride [proclamation] is a necessity to our community.”

Nicole Wilson-Spiro, Nicola Davies, Farah Masani, Alissa Helgesen, Steve Hudspeth and Julie Hughes all spoke at the meeting in support of an LGBTQIA+ proclamation (there were no public comments against a separate proclamation). Their comments can be heard on the Zoom meeting recording which will be posted on the Town website.

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6 Comments

  1. This feels like simple stubbornness at this point – make a dumb decision and refuse to revisit it even under pressure. At least that’s the most charitable explanation; most of the other possibilities are much worse.

    It does no harm to anybody to issue this proclamation; all of this ‘government speech’ stuff is a convenient excuse. If any resident seriously decides to sue the town for making a gay pride proclamation, they’ll be laughed out of court, and in the unlikely event they were not, the town could simply retract it + reissue it after amending the charter to more explicitly allow for such proclamations.

    Ms. Vanderslice seems like a fine administrator, but I don’t get the impression she’s ever been all that good at the political aspect of her job, and now that the administrative work is largely in other hands, perhaps it’s time to consider a new First Selectperson in 2023.

    1. agree. Wilton has changed a lot just over the last 5 years; the town needs to adjust and stand for some values – this seems to be no-brainer.

  2. Completely agree with Ms. Vanderslice position. Acceptance is one thing, promotion is something else. Would be miffed to see otherwise.

    1. Pride isn’t promotion, it’s a form of acceptance; acceptance without pride is acceptance with something less than pride.

      The notion that it’s enough for Wilton to merely tolerate LGBTQIA+ residents brings us back three decades ago to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era; we can and should do better.

  3. Completely agree with Vanderslice. These silly proclamations accomplish nothing but appeasement for local activists. Why should an entire town be subject to the whims of a few virtue signalers?

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