MANCHESTER — Following the lead of other Southern Vermont communities, town officials have made a statement declaring Manchester to be inclusive and accepting.
The town Select Board unanimously and enthusiastically supported a Declaration of Inclusion at its meeting Tuesday. The statement says the town “condemns racism and welcomes all persons, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, or disability, and wants everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community.”
It continues, “As a town, we formally condemn all discrimination in all of its forms, commit to fair and equal treatment of everyone in our community, and will strive to ensure all of our actions, policies, and operating procedures reflect this commitment.”
Finally, it reads, “The Town of Manchester has and will continue to be a place where individuals can live freely and express their opinions.”
Member of the public Barbara Muench said the decision to approve this statement was a strong one and spoke well of the community. She then offered the observation that if people would live with this document as part of their daily lives, it will become part of them and those traits will be passed down through children and to others in the community.
That touched something in Board Chairman Ivan Beattie, who spoke passionately about his personal efforts to not fall victim to the divisiveness that has become pervasive.
“The most inclusive thing we can do is to listen to each other,” Beattie said. “Most animosity from one person to another comes from a lack of understanding and fear.”
The idea to make the statement was presented by Mary Welford, who said the language had been adopted from other towns. Several members of the public spoke in favor, with nobody speaking against it. Margaret Donovan told the board she was all for it.
“We want to be that kind of community,” Donovan said. “A welcoming community.”
Muench told the board, “I feel like this would be very, very important for our community.”
Beattie offered full-throated support of the document but warned the board to be cautious.
“We have to be very careful that we’re not endorsing one group over another,” Beattie said. “We need to be as inclusive as possible with the declaration of support.”
He said he thinks the statement is, by definition, exactly that.
Board member Heidi Chamberlain praised it.
“It will send a strong message if we all support this document and adopt it,” Chamberlain said. She also said it was good to get it done, then modify the
language later if it proved necessary. “Recognize it as a living document.”
Resident Susan McManus voiced support and asked the board to consider Chamberlain’s suggestion.
Board members agreed and wondered whether to add the missing pieces immediately or make the change later.
“Should we add sexual orientation and socio-economic status?” Beattie asked, and then answered his own question. “I think we should.”
All agreed and passed the measure 5-0.
“Teach our kids that and the world will improve,” Beattie said.
He continued, saying that people have lost their civility.
“People are hiding behind the veil of anonymity on their keyboard for no good reason,” he said. “Now that we’re getting back together, that is carrying on. I’m scared of what I’m seeing. We’ve lost our sense of civility. If [the inclusion statement] is a step toward getting that back, then this is a step in the right direction.”