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Community, Business, and LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in Haddam

By Meghan Peterson.

(October 30, 2023)—At the August 9, 2023 Haddam Economic Development Commission (EDC) meeting, the topic of inclusivity was among various discussion points for the evening. A review of meeting minutes (publicly viewable at www.haddam.org) shows that this particular conversation centered on how to make Haddam businesses and the Haddam community welcoming and inclusive for all – with a focus on LGBTQ+.[1]

It is not clear from the 8/9/2023 EDC meeting minutes as well as responses from individuals to Haddam Killingworth News/hk-now.com inquiries about this matter whether a specific incident prompted this discussion.

Likewise, it is not clear what precipitated a meeting Haddam First Selectman Bob McGarry held with Mike Karam (Haddam EDC member and Haddam Planning & Zoning Commission candidate) and Rebecca Degnan (licensed professional counselor and owner of Killingworth-based Prism Counseling & Support LLC, which provides individual, family and group counseling for LGBTQ+ youth and adults). McGarry states that he is “not aware of anything specific that prompted” the meeting. He notes that “I want everyone who lives, works, or considers moving here to believe Haddam is a safe, warm and welcoming community. It’s clear from my meeting with Mr. Karam and Ms. Degnan and the discussion at the August EDC meeting that we need to take a thoughtful approach to making that happen.”

Haddam EDC Chair and Board of Selectmen member Kate Anderson writes, “As a nonpartisan commission, the Economic Development Commission represents the entire community and encourages new ideas from members and non-members. Our monthly meetings cover a variety of topics. The subject of ‘inclusivity’ at our August meeting included a discussion with no specific proposals or motions made. As a lifelong resident of Haddam, I have found that Haddam strives to be a welcoming community to both businesses and residents.”

According to meeting minutes, “Karam stated that he met with McGarry and presented some thoughts on inclusivity and how to make Haddam more welcoming to LGBTQ+ specifically.”

Minutes describe how “[o]ne of the initiatives is how to make businesses more welcoming in general such as placing stickers in their windows that say ‘All are Welcome,’ etc…” To this end, “Mr. Karam suggested Ms. Degnan attend an EDC meeting to make recommendations on how to approach businesses to put the sticker in their windows.”

Further, “Mr. Karam stated the stickers could say anything such as ‘All are Welcome’ or depict a LGBTQ+ flag.”

Via e-mail correspondence, Karam indicates that he does not want to provide comment to Haddam Killingworth News/hk-now.com on this topic.

Via e-mail correspondence, Degnan indicates that she does not want to provide comment to Haddam Killingworth News/hk-now.com on this topic.

Haddam business owners and residents alike provided thoughts and views on this matter in a general request for comment Haddam Killingworth News issued. Editor’s Note: The request for comment on two central Haddam social media pages (Facebook) directed individuals to e-mail the author of this article directly. While there is an abundance of responses on those Facebook pages, remarks below are included due to the fact that these individuals made direct contact per the request. Here is a sampling of those thoughts and views:

Lori Maggi, a Haddam business owner, shares: “No amount of flags or stickers or banners are going to change anything. We can’t change or improve what we don’t acknowledge. Just by talking about this issue is helpful. We have to look at ourselves and treat each other better. Change comes from within, not from flags or stickers. Look inside yourself, and be nicer, kinder, gentler and more patient and humble. Just my thoughts.”

Liz Bazazi, a Haddam business owner, writes (in reference to the idea discussed at the August 9, 2023 EDC meeting): “Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful idea! Surrounding towns are making efforts in this vein. But LGBTQ should be just one element. Let’s make it known that we are open to people of all ethnicities and religions. Honestly, whatever can be done to bolster existing businesses and attract new, preferably family friendly ones should be done.”

Dan Luisi, a business owner and Haddam Planning & Zoning Commission candidate running for re-election, comments: “Why does anyone have to know what your preference is? Should we all start wearing signs? I happen to like vanilla ice cream with chocolate jimmies. Who cares! Stop flaunting it. It doesn’t matter. How about you respect me, I will respect you. I have been in business for 40 years – not once did I ever ask or care what a customer or employee’s preferences are. You came to me to buy a product or get a job, not to push your preferences on me, and I was not pushing mine on you. We are here to work together…talking with people in town, a lot agreed that while trying to be inclusive [with] the sticker or flag…could make some feel like they are not welcome. We are trying to correct a problem that does not really exist with most people. There are always the bad apples. Stop blaming the many for the few.”

Peter Baird says, “While I’m not a business owner in town, I live in Higganum Center and make real efforts to shop locally. Many of the shop owners in Higganum know me well for this reason. I wholly support the idea of communicating as a town, and our businesses (if they choose to) promoting that we are an inclusive community. Being inclusive and welcoming means that people should feel safe to be who they are. Inclusivity covers many ideas – race, gender, economic status, disability, sexuality, religion and others. As long as it’s legal, of course. Supporting inclusivity and being welcoming doesn’t mean I agree with every idea on this, it mostly means we are tolerant – and kind.”

Over the course of community conversation, social media discourse, and individual comments thus far, several areas or lines of questions have arisen surrounding the topic of inclusivity in general as well as about the discussion that occurred at the August EDC meeting in particular:

If Haddam businesses choose to fly an LGBTQ+ flag, does the choice signify they are solely conducting business for the LGBTQ+ community? What about other identifiers among potential customers (for example, race, ethnicity, creed and/or religion, disability)? Would businesses fly flags or place stickers in acknowledgement of these other community identifiers?

If businesses choose not to fly this flag, does the absence signify they are not welcoming? The 8/9/2023 EDC discussion emphasized that such an action would be voluntary; could this practice, however, take on a mandatory nature – vis-à-vis potential ramifications for not participating in this visible step?

Similarly, if businesses choose to place an “All are Welcome sticker on their storefront window, what does it mean for those businesses which do not? What is the definition of “all”? What would the presence or absence of this kind of signage reinforce for customers, businesses and the Haddam community at large? What are some potential downstream impacts – positive, negative, neutral or otherwise?

[1] The LGBTQ+ community includes but is not limited to the following: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual. Source: LGBTQIA Resource Center, University of California-Davis.

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