Wilton Residents Keep Pressure on Selectmen for LGBTQIA+ Proclamation

photo: Town of Wilton Zoom recording, Board of Selectmen meeting, July 19, 2022

LGBTQIA+ Pride Month may have ended on June 30, but some residents are continuing to press the Board of Selectmen (BOS) for an official proclamation by the Town in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Before June ended, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice declined residents’ request for a proclamation to coincide with Pride Month on the basis that it fell outside the criteria she has established for proclamations. Instead, she pointed to the town’s existing Civility, Respect and Understanding (CRU) Proclamation — but some residents still aren’t satisfied.

Residents Persist

Several residents offered public comments at the Tuesday, July 19 BOS meeting, urging Vanderslice to reconsider the decision.

Vanessa Elias requested the BOS consider a pride proclamation ahead of next June’s Pride Month, or at least issue a “re-statement of the civility and inclusivity proclamation” tied to a public event during Pride.

“It is really important that we make a very visible statement as a town to support the LGBTQ community in Wilton,” Elias said. “I definitely feel this impacts Wilton’s municipal departments, [such as] 911 and social services.”

Donna Peterson asked the board to consider the real message behind a proclamation — or the absence of one.

“This comes from the top down,” Peterson said. “I’m very concerned at what message we’re giving the community when we’re not able to express that very specific support for our community.”

“We’re trying to woo people into Wilton,” Peterson continued. “If you look at all the surrounding towns, they all have done these proclamations and they all have supported Pride. We’re the only ones that haven’t. It really makes us look bad.” 

In an emailed statement, Pamela Hovland wrote, “During this time of deeply seated fear and grief over our legal rights being threatened and stripped from birthing people, gay people, trans people and more, it is critical that Wilton make an unequivocal statement… it is more important than ever to communicate clearly to our community — especially to our youth — that Wilton welcomes diversity in all its configurations.”

Additional public comment can be heard on the Zoom meeting recording on the Town website.

Residents’ continued effort to obtain a proclamation appeared to take Vanderslice somewhat by surprise.

“I thought, honestly, since Pride Month was over, that the [request for a] proclamation was closed,” Vanderslice said.

BOS Response

Though she considered the June request a closed matter, Vanderslice did in fact take additional steps following the June request to address the core concern at the heart of residents’ desire for a proclamation.

She added a discussion about the Town’s Civility, Respect and Understanding (CRU) Proclamation to the agenda for the July 19 BOS meeting.

With its explicit references to gender and sexual orientation, the CRU proclamation could be interpreted as expressing official Town of Wilton support for the LGBTQIA+ community. It says, in part:

“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.”

Upon reviewing that proclamation — which was issued in 2017 during her tenure — Vanderslice observed that none of the other current selectmen were in office at that time.

“It occurred to me we really should re-issue it every time we have a change of membership on the Board [of Selectmen],” Vanderslice told the board.

“It really should be a statement from the current Board of Selectmen. Therefore I recommend that this group re-issue [the proclamation],” Vanderslice told the Board.

Vanderslice’s recommended action was postponed, however, due to Selectwoman Kim Healy‘s absence from the meeting. Vanderslice suggested the need to wait until all five board members were present to re-issue the proclamation.

The selectmen also supported the concept of renewing the CRU proclamation on a regular basis, timed accordingly with changes in Board membership. Vanderslice suggested a January timetable (shortly after any newly elected selectmen have been sworn in) would be most “pragmatic.”

Reissue or Revise?

But for some residents advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community in Wilton, the CRU Civility Proclamation does not go far enough — and at least one BOS member might agree.

At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, Selectman Bas Nabulsi corrected Vanderslice when she referred to “consensus” among the board members as to what the next steps would be.

“I have a slightly different take on this, at least on the timing and even on the process of re-issuing the proclamation,” he said.

For Nabulsi, it’s about “ownership.”

“I was not around in 2017 when the team thought it all through and went back and forth on the issues that needed to be addressed. For me to participate in re-issuing a proclamation that I didn’t participate in formulating feels a little empty to me,” he said.

“I think it’s much more valuable, whenever it is on the calendar, that the people on the board actually think about it, reflect on it, and confirm that this is what they think needs to be said,” Nabulsi posited.

Rather than wait until January, Nabulsi said he’d prefer to have those discussions “now” and allow future boards to consider re-issuing a proclamation at the appropriate time. (He also noted a concern that budget planning could quickly begin to consume BOS attention in January.)

GMW reached out to Nabulsi for comment after the meeting, but he declined to offer any additional comments before further discussions with his fellow board members.

Vanderslice didn’t appear to move off the proposed January timing, only offering assurance that budget planning would not interfere with a thoughtful discussion of proclamations in January.

In the meantime, Vanderslice suggested selectmen review videotape of 2017 meetings when the CRU proclamation was formulated, and also circulate their ideas on any changes they might propose, for other board members’ consideration.

Discussion Continues

In addition to the emailed comments and public comments at the start of the meeting, the BOS heard more resident feedback in support of a separate Pride proclamation at the end of the meeting.

Donna Peterson returned for comment, asking for clarity on earlier comments made by Selectman Ross Tartell about Wilton’s brand image. Tartell reiterated his belief that Wilton is “a town that cares” and is “a good place to live for families” among other favorable perceptions.

“I find that very interesting,” Peterson responded. “I would agree with what you consider to be [Wilton’s] image but I feel that what we’re doing tonight and the lack of discussion about Pride is not in keeping with that image, and that’s unfortunate.”

Resident Farah Masani said, “As a mother of a 19-year-old transgender person, I come to you to ask for a [distinct] Pride proclamation. I understand you want to revisit with every new selectperson the existing [Civility] proclamation, but by not saying something you’re actually saying something.”

Masani drew a number of parallels between an LGBTQIA+ Pride proclamation and other aspirations the BOS had discussed throughout the meeting (for example, being a recovery-friendly town, or assisting small businesses.)

Masani pointedly asked for guidance on what other avenues she could pursue to accomplish the goal.

“You’ve asked, we addressed it, and you’ve come back and you’ve asked again,” Vanderslice responded. “The board will… discuss it when it’s back on the agenda in January.”

Nicole Wilson-Spiro said she felt resident voices were not being heard by the BOS.

“We elect representatives to be our voice, and if ‘No’ is the answer we’re going to receive, ok,” she said “However, we haven’t received any answer. It’s as if we aren’t speaking. That feels disheartening and disrespectful.”

Vanderslice reminded Wilson-Spiro that the board addressed the issue at the previous board meeting.

“We’ve been very clear,” Vanderslice responded, referring to email communications and public statements on her reasons for not issuing a pride proclamation in June.

Nabulsi interjected at that point, to dispute what Vanderslice considered “clear.”

Nabulsi restated his takeaway from the previous meeting — that the board had agreed to review the decision criteria which would not preclude a decision to consider a Pride proclamation in the future.

“I recall we talked about the criteria that were being used, and the desire for all of us to think about whether those criteria were properly crafted and being fairly applied,” Nabulsi said. “We had a conversation about the ‘slippery slope’ and the implications of potentially changing the criteria being used. I didn’t come away from the last meeting feeling like I had joined a consensus that the issue was closed.”

“It would be my hope and expectation that at some point the [BOS] agenda item would [be] a discussion about how we go about deciding on proclamations. What are the criteria? Are we happy about the criteria?”

Vanderslice confirmed the January meeting agenda would include the topic, but offered a final comment that suggested her stance on proclamations might be difficult to change.

“There’s a diversity of people in Wilton,” she said. “There’s a long list of things we don’t do proclamations on.”