Kenyon: Pride puts roots down in Windsor

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 06-03-2023 9:15 PM

After the Windsor Selectboard voted in October to block advocates for the LGBTQ+ community from planting a “Pride” tree on the town common, Amanda Jordan Smith could have given up the fight.

Instead, she dug in.

Jordan Smith, a former Selectboard member who founded Windsor’s LGBTQ+ group, saw the fruits of her labor Thursday evening.

About 100 people gathered outside the Old Constitution House on North Main Street for the dedication of a 15-foot flowering cherry tree that Jordan Smith and a few others planted earlier in the week. The tree, in part, symbolizes the LGBTQ+ community’s ongoing struggle for equal rights.

“A lot of people gave her support, but Amanda was the engine,” Emma Caffrey, who was elected to the Selectboard in March, told me. “It was her brainchild.”

How did Jordan Smith pull it off?

In football parlance, she performed an end run.

Following the Selectboard’s 3-2 vote in October, Jordan Smith contacted Gwen Kozlowski at the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program, which helps towns plant and care for trees in public spaces. Through Windsor’s tree warden, Michael Metivier, Kozlowski was familiar with last year’s tree-planting effort.

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The LGBTQ+ community wants to “plant something that could thrive in Windsor, just like queer folk can,” Jordan Smith said before the October vote.

Board members Tera Howard, Jeffrey Johnson and Paul Woodman weren’t swayed. “I don’t think it’s fair for one group to cram their ideology down everyone’s throat, and I feel like that’s what is being done here,” Howard argued.

With a corner of the town common, located across from the Windsor Library on State Street, no longer an option, Jordan Smith talked with Kozlowski about a new potential location for a Pride tree.

The Old Constitution House is a state historic site over which the town has no control.

Kozlowski, the forestry program’s outreach and education coordinator, fully supported the location. She arranged for University of Vermont Extension to cover the $249 cost of the cherry tree.

Still, the state needed to sign off on the idea.

“It took only a split second to agree this was the right place,” Laura Trieschmann, the state historic preservation officer, said in her remarks Thursday evening.

The Old Constitution House, known as the birthplace of Vermont, represents equity and justice, she added. The Vermont constitution, signed in the summer of 1777 in what was a tavern, became the first of its kind to ban adult slavery.

The site, on the edge of Windsor’s downtown, is “dedicated to the bravery it takes to seek, to see and to support progress,” Jordan Smith told the crowd.

Jordan Smith, who graduated from Windsor High School in 2008 and later Wellesley College in Massachusetts, also mentioned the role current Windsor High students have played. After the board’s decision, students helped organize a march to show support for the Pride tree on Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“The rejection of this LGBTQ+ tree on the municipal level had a detrimental effect on so many living here, and even beyond the boundaries of this town,” she said. “I can say candidly and vulnerably that it had a negative impact on my well-being and that of my family, but when I saw those students come together to protest … I made a vow to myself that I would not give up.”

(For a day job, Jordan Smith, 32, leads the Volunteers in Action program, an affiliate of Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, that helps people stay in their homes as they age by delivering Meals on Wheels and other services.)

State legislators from Windsor County — Sen. Alison Clarkson, Sen. Dick McCormack and Rep. Elizabeth Burrows, who was among the featured speakers — attended the event.

Since I didn’t spot any of the three board members who opposed the tree on the town common, I emailed them after the ceremony.

Woodman responded that he’d had a scheduling conflict but attended a Pride march in town last fall to “meet supporters of our gay community, not just the folks who chime in during our (board) sessions.”

“Unfortunately, we have had quite a bit of community divide surrounding social issues,” he added.

Ryan Palmer, who voted in favor of the Pride tree on the common, also had a scheduling conflict. Palmer, who was elected Windsor County sheriff in November, said he was at a state law enforcement meeting Thursday. I didn’t hear back from Howard or Johnson.

Town Manager Tom Marsh was conspicuous in his absence as well. While legislators might see the need to attend such public ceremonies, Marsh doesn’t consider it part of his role as a “hired official,” he told me via email.

Also, “as a private citizen, the concept of societal distinction does not resonate with me,” Marsh wrote. “It is just not the way I look at life, or view those around me.”

The tree dedication followed the raising of a Pride flag outside the Windsor Municipal Building, which the board approved by a 4-1 vote last month. Howard was the lone dissenter. The flag will fly through June, part of the the LGBTQ+ community’s monthlong celebration that the board has supported in recent years.

With prodding from Caffrey, the board’s newest member, town officials are also showing signs of adopting a less rigid — and combative — approach to dealing with organizations they might not agree with. A plan is being finalized to allow groups to plant and dedicate trees at Windsor Fairgrounds, a large public space that features recreation fields and courts.

Although hardly an eye-popping location, considering where Windsor was eight months ago, it’s progress.

“These symbols matter,” Ethan Lawrence, a social worker and former leader of Windsor’s LGBTQ+ group, said in an interview between the flag raising and tree dedication. “We need to show kids and other people who may not be comfortable coming out that they are being stood up for.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.