Guest Post: A Personal Story on DEI, by Nick Planson
This opinion piece was given to us by Nick Planson, and also submitted on the NGXchange.
A Personal Story on DEI, Freedom of Speech, and What it Means in New
by Nick Planson, Independent Resident of New Gloucester
First, I commend the DEI Committee for working on the challenging issues facing
our town. You are doing hard and important work. It is difficult to talk about
issues surrounding diversity of thought and inclusion in New Gloucester.
I experienced this difficulty first-hand. I got involved in local politics after my Black
Lives Matter signs on Penney Rd. were run over, then stolen, then had violent
threatening messages written on them towards me and my extended family.
Involving law enforcement made things worse. I thought of this example when
listening to a recent DEI meeting, where several committee members talked
about how DEI “elevates itself above the laws,” “compels speech,” and “infringes
on civil rights” such as free speech. They said that some businesspeople are
worried about the reaction to their speech, or that some community members
are worried about giving a public comment due to the reaction.
I understand this fear. Last May, members of the community tried for the second
year in a row to discuss concerns over confederate flags and reenactors in the NG
Memorial Day parade with leaders of the AMVETS hall, members of the select
board, our former town manager, and the 15 th Alabama Company confederate
reenactment group. None of these representatives were willing to work with the
concerned citizens, despite pleas for consideration and understanding. These
community members then wrote and signed a letter of protest, and some
demonstrated at the parade in protest of racist, discriminatory symbols marching
at the front of the parade.
I signed this letter. Then I was attacked online and in person by members of this
community, some of whom serve on several New Gloucester boards and
committees. I know of others who gave quotes to the press on the matter, and
then received death threats. This is unacceptable. I reached out to some of the
people who disparaged me to have direct conversations, and I was brushed aside
or received no response. I continue to serve on three committees alongside some
of these individuals, and will keep listening, trying to understand, and speaking up
when things aren’t right.
I’m not sure what’s going on in New Gloucester, but I thought talking one on one,
and trying to learn where we’re all coming from so we can be happy living here,
was key to New Gloucester. I remain hopeful that we can get back to that. I hope
this committee can be the start.
As you continue your work, I ask you as a resident of New Glocuester who has
experienced attacks based on some of the issues you’re discussing, to:
1. Please don’t rush the process. You are tackling difficult issues and need to
take the time to hear each other and put yourselves in each other’s shoes,
and in the shoes of marginalized people. Please ensure the language and
body language you use is respectful of all people, whether or not you
believe they have been marginalized, discriminated against, or been the
victims of systemic racism.
2. Please focus on protecting people from discrimination, rather than
protecting people’s supposed rights to discriminate.
3. Please view this process as the opportunity to make everyone in the
community comfortable living here. Protecting someone’s rights doesn’t
mean you’re taking them away from someone else. Making one person feel
comfortable and welcome doesn’t mean others are less welcome.
Appreciating someone else’s culture or identity does not threaten your
culture or identity – it enhances it.
In a previous meeting, several members commented that an ideal world isn’t
possible. And you’re right, people can say whatever they want. Our policies,
procedures, and rules though, must not discriminate. That is why this committee
is here. And you’re here to craft statements that will guide New Gloucester when
tackling differences of opinions; I ask that you keep these statements visionary
and reach for ideals, not reinforce past shortfalls.
I’ve also noticed the idea of culture come up again and again. One committee
member said that we would lose our society if we included non-gendered
pronouns in policies. Another committee member said last meeting that she’s
dismayed by social activism’s “movement to shift the culture of our town.” The
people pursuing social activism are part of the culture of the town. We should be
happy that they feel comfortable asking to be included in our town, when
previously they might not have been. The culture of New Gloucester as I know it
focuses on caring for each other, supporting those going through hard times, and
being open to other viewpoints. As someone who is a proud social activist, I can
assure the committee that the goal is to enhance that culture, not shift, replace,
or harm it.
Lastly, I ask that the committee please search within your hearts to work from a
position of empathy. For example, don’t perpetuate the myth that transpeople
are boogeymen trying to infiltrate bathrooms, as a committee member suggested
in a recent meeting. Instead, please focus on the fact that 82% of transgender
individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide.
These are the people we should support and include in our town culture. People
struggle with lots of hard personal stuff all the time. Depression and suicides are
at an all-time high. We’ve all lost friends, family members, and acquaintances to
suicide, drug abuse, and alcoholism. Let’s try to take care of each other and make
our town as welcome and kind as possible to everyone.
We are ALL New Gloucester.
*This is a guest post by Nick Planson. The views expressed are those of Nick Planson, and not endorsed by the New Gloucester GOP. The New Gloucester GOP supports the right of individuals to submit guest blog posts freely, and without censorship. If you are interested in sharing an article, or post please send all submissions to email@example.com