The Gardiner Town Board is preparing to take an unprecedented step at its October meeting: In response to requests from a number of residents and the Gardiner Democratic Committee, councilman David Dukler has drafted a resolution to take a public stand against hate crimes in the community, and the measure is expected to pass unanimously once the language undergoes a few tweaks. While it’s routine for some municipalities to issue resolutions in symbolic support of various causes, such as declaring a particular month an “Awareness Month” for a particular disease, Gardiner does not normally put such proposals on its meeting agendas. “Since I’ve been on this board, we’ve never passed a resolution like this before,” Dukler said. “It’s groundbreaking.”
The text for the resolution, titled “Condemnation of Hate Crimes,” enumerates several recent instances of vandalism targeting homes displaying rainbow flags in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, before going on to express strong official disapproval of such behavior. “The Town Board of the Town of Gardiner unequivocally rejects hate speech and hate acts as being an attack on members of the Gardiner community who were peacefully and lawfully exercising their right to freedom of expression and displaying their support for a minority group. Such acts are violations of the rights of others to voice their opinions as enumerated in the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States,” the resolution states. “Such acts go beyond the mere crime of destruction of property and are an attack upon the very foundations of American society…Thus we reaffirm that these acts and those similar are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”
While the incidents that sparked the most recent outcry occurred in July, harassment of homeowners showing support for the LGBTQ community began several years ago, according to Ulster County legislator Tracey Bartels, whose home was among the first to be targeted. “In 2016, in response to the Pulse [nightclub] massacre, my neighbor orchestrated a show of pride and resilience in the form of rainbow flags. I was honored to display the rainbow flag on my mailbox — a symbol of solidarity,” she told the New Paltz Times. “Less than a week later, my mailbox was smashed in with a bat. It felt like a hate crime, a violent message of intolerance. I never saw the perpetrator, but I heard them loud and clear. I left the mailbox damaged and replaced the flag.”
Samuel Cristler, who has since 1999 helped organize efforts by his neighbors in support of traffic-calming measures on Dusinberre Road, has a similar story: “After the Orlando Pulse massacre…almost every Dusinberre Road resident eagerly displayed rainbow flags…and many drivers stopped and asked for flags for their own roads. Unfortunately, we only had enough for our road plus a few other close-by homes and businesses. That year, Tracey Bartels’ and Bill Richards’ flag and mailbox on Sand Hill Road were bashed and destroyed. Despite that instance — really because of it — we decided to make it an annual tradition. During Pride Month in June 2018 and 2019, most neighbors welcomed fresh flags.”
This summer, however, “flags were regularly snapped off and stolen. Someone sitting in the passenger seat of a black pickup truck speeding past my house yelled ‘f**king faggot!’ so loudly that I could hear him inside my house with the windows closed,” Cristler recounts. “In the dark of night in the early hours of July 16, several mailboxes with flags were egged and bludgeoned and the posts snapped to the ground. Some homes were also egged. The vandalism is a costly nuisance, but neighbors quickly replaced their property, and a few defiantly displayed new flags. The cache of flags reserved for next year has already been depleted…some neighbors are now installing security cameras.”
Among the homeowners targeted during this summer’s wave of hate crimes along Dusinberre Road was Renee Mitchell. “I grew up in this town, my whole life, and I chose to raise my kids in this beautiful place. Unfortunately, I bought a house on a road that I can’t walk on, and my kids can’t learn to ride their bikes on,” she lamented. “I live on a road where my car gets broken into, people yell profanities at me when speeding past my house (‘dyke’) and someone repeatedly tried to ruin our sense of community. I am offended, I am angry, I am scared.”
Another Dusinberre neighbor, Kat Trapani, shared photographs of her wrecked mailbox as she discovered it on the morning of July 16. “My mailbox was knocked down twice and my gay flag removed (the first time) and eggs were thrown inside of it…On a separate occasion when I returned home from a trip, my front windows were paintballed,” she reported to the Times. “Funny thing is, several of the neighbors who had placed flags up on their mailboxes are not even gay.”
The hate crimes were reported to the police, and while the perpetrators are still being described as “a person or persons unknown,” some of the homeowners were able to describe vehicles whose drivers shouted homophobic epithets at residents while driving past. “I have contacted Sergeant Farrell of the New York State Police, and the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department as well, for additional coverage,” said town supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “They told me they would increase patrols in the area. If they have enough information to investigate, I am sure that they will.”
Trapani, for her part, refused to be deterred by the vandalism: “After the first one being removed, I placed a second extra-large flag on it. Just to send a message! People supportive would drive by and blow the horn.”
Cristler also expressed gratitude to the local community for its expressions of solidarity with the targeted residents. “The Gardiner Democratic Committee promptly voiced outrage and approached the Town Board for a statement of public shaming. Business owners on Main Street requested replacement flags. The community’s outpouring of support, acceptance and inclusion has, frankly, been overwhelming to many of us older gay people who have lived every day of our lives feeling necessarily cautious, wary and usually not ‘out.’ Widespread public acceptance is something I never dreamed that I personally would ever experience.”
“I applaud our Town Board for their public condemnation. We can’t allow these acts to go unchallenged,” said Bartels.
Cristler urged residents and visitors to frequent the businesses on Main Street that display the rainbow flag, among which are Yoga Wellness Bodywork, Cafe Mio, Gardiner Liquid Mercantile, Allstate Insurance and Cuts by Dawn. “Maybe next year during Pride Month we will offer rainbow flags for every home in Gardiner,” he suggested.