At an otherwise-uneventful meeting on April 14, the Rosendale Town Board joined a number of other municipalities in the region responding to recent upsurges in hate crimes by passing a resolution titled “Equality in Rosendale.” Though largely symbolic, the inclusionary action puts the town government officially on record as being unwilling to tolerate harassment of residents based upon their race, religion, nationality, gender identity or sexual orientation.
The resolution acknowledges “record high violence” on a national scale and affirms that “all people of our community have the right to feel safe and be treated equally and with respect and dignity.” The statement goes on to declare, “on behalf of all residents of the Town of Rosendale, we maintain our position that violence of any kind is unacceptable and condemn any act of aggression, hostility or violence against any member of our community based upon race, religion, nationality, gender identity or sexual orientation.”
“Local government is a place where everyone should come together, regardless of any personal characteristics or identities, and all local governments should consider that when they are working on the business of their towns or cities,” councilman Ernest Klepeis, who drafted the resolution, told Hudson Valley One. “I was looking to do some statement based upon personal conversations and the desire for local government to be leaders in a world that sees increased polarization and a confirmed rise in violence and hate crimes based upon an individual’s identity.”
Asked if any particular local events had triggered his action, Klepeis declined to cite any specific incidents within the Town of Rosendale. However, a three-year campaign of harassment against a transgender resident, Angelina Bouros, made national headlines in September 2019, when hundreds of volunteers turned out to help paint her house in rainbow colors. An anonymous neighbor had sent Bouros a series of threatening letters objecting to her rainbow flag, and then killed and dismembered her cat, Rambo. Bouros responded by organizing the painting party, which actor and LGBTQ activist George Takei featured in his blog.
The hate mail did not cease, however, and a letter sent about a month after Bouros’ house was painted threatened to make it “explode.” No suspect has as yet been identified, apprehended or charged with the hate crimes.
These incidents are reminiscent of a series of events in the Town of Gardiner in recent years that inspired that town to adopt a similar resolution, titled “Condemnation of Hate Crimes,” and to appoint councilman David Dukler to the post of “ambassador for peace and justice,” responsible for monitoring activity that incites hate crimes and reporting it to the appropriate authorities. In 2019, numerous houses flying rainbow flags in one Gardiner neighborhood had them ripped out of the ground, flagpoles snapped in half or mailboxes smashed, their windows egged or paintballed. Residents also reported passing motorists shouting abusive epithets late at night. In 2020, handbills began appearing overnight in various town locations promoting the neo-Nazi white supremacist group Patriot Front.
Asked what he hoped the Rosendale resolution would accomplish, Klepeis said, “I consider this a success if even one person stops and thinks about walking in another person’s shoes before judging them. It’s on each of us to ensure that we approach our relationships, either familial or in passing, with a sense of appreciation and empathy. You can’t expect our societal problems to be solved at the national level if we’re not willing to put in the work locally.”