One Reaction to Mural Tears Small New Hampshire Town Apart

Duane Coute, too, had known Ms. Gendreau for years. Like Ms. Harrington, he had asked to meet with her after her comments blew up, hoping to understand. Instead, he said, he felt more bewildered after she described her views to him.

The affable general manager of the local Chevrolet dealership, Mr. Coute, 55, was not inclined toward politics or public disputes. But he had spent his life in Littleton and was among the business leaders who had worked hard to remake the former mill town, once in decline, into a bustling tourist hub.

As fall turned to winter, and still the select board did not clearly reject Ms. Gendreau’s comments, he could not bear to see the town’s reputation undergo such damage, he said, its fabric torn by the animosity on both sides of the dispute.

Some of Mr. Coute’s conservative friends, and some of his employees, cautioned him against leaping into the fray. He jumped in anyway, rallying more than 1,000 business people, residents and frequent visitors to the town to sign a letter he wrote with other business leaders in November imploring the board to “step back from this hurtful path.”

“This is not who we are,” the letter said. “Littleton is a vibrant, broad and inclusive community.”

The rainbow flags that North Country Pride had handed out to businesses downtown were new, but the area’s reputation for tolerance was not. It had been a destination for gay travelers since the 1980s, when the Highlands Inn in neighboring Bethlehem, N.H., began advertising itself as a “lesbian paradise” in gay newspapers around the country.

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