A meeting of a St. Albans City committee meant to foster equity and inclusion erupted into shouting earlier this month after one member appeared to double down on his previous claims that the committee is unnecessary.
Keith Longmore, a local business manager, was one of eight people that St. Albans city councilors appointed to the Belonging, Equity and Inclusion Committee in January.
That appointment has proven controversial.
Other committee members have pointed to a letter to the editor that appeared in the St. Albans Messenger last summer in which Longmore contended that the city was in the arms of a “wokeness brigade.” He continued, “I beg the City of St. Albans to abandon this unnecessary committee effort.”
Longmore also wrote that as an African American, he had not experienced discrimation or felt unwelcome in the community.
The committee’s charge includes organizing programs and events that highlight the city’s diversity; engaging people from diverse backgrounds in local government; and advising city staff and officials on ways to demonstrate belonging, equity and inclusion.
Longmore did not attend its first two monthly meetings in March and April.
At the start of the May 10 meeting, committee member Reier Erickson read a statement saying that St. Albans is located “on unceded lands which have served as sites of sustenance, community, meeting and exchange among Indigenous peoples,” according to a recording of the meeting published online by the St. Albans Messenger.
Committee members then went around the room and shared their names and pronouns. When it was his turn, Longmore said his name, then, “American. MAGA. Make America great again. America first.” He was wearing a T-shirt that read “1776 Forever Free.”
Longmore then asked why the committee read a land acknowledgment at the beginning of its meeting instead of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Erickson said his statement was meant to acknowledge “aboriginal people and Indigenous people who have been harmed,” to which Longmore replied, “I figured you’d say that.”
Erickson then told Longmore that his presence at the meeting “denoted a complete lack of responsibility on the part of the city.”
“Wearing that shirt denotes a complete lack of respect for the work we’re doing here,” he continued. Both men raised their voices and at times spoke over each other.
Longmore went on to declare the committee “a fraud and an affront to the families of this city.”
Asked in a phone interview Friday why he wants to sit on a committee that he has called unnecessary in the past, Longmore said he now believes that his membership is important because, “you can’t have everybody think alike, now can we?”
He added, “I represent the families of the city of St. Albans that don’t buy into the woke game.”
At the committee’s April meeting, St. Albans Mayor Tim Smith had told members that he and the two city councilors who interviewed committee applicants knew that Longmore had opposing viewpoints to other members, but felt “his contrasting opinions might bring something to the table,” according to meeting minutes.
City Manager Dominic Cloud has previously told VTDigger that the councilors, who are all white, did not want to have “a litmus test” for people of color to join the committee.
Some committee members have derided the claim that Longmore’s appointment was inclusive. According to meeting minutes, member Reese Kelly told Smith last month that Longmore’s views “were actually counterintuitive to the committee’s mission.”
Longmore said at the May 10 meeting thatlast week some committee members have attempted to paint St. Albans residents as “blanket bigots and racists” because the city’s population is largely white.
“They’re white people. They do white people things. I’m OK with that,” Longmore said.
In response, member Eliana Castro said the committee needs to “be mindful of never painting anything in broad strokes.” She and other members don’t think all of St. Albans has the same values or identities, she said, as there are “communities within the community.”
“There is good in this community,” said Castro, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont who researches race and racism. “At the same time, there is a lot that needs to be expunged.”
Kelly, who is queer and transgender, said every commmitee member has had different lived experiences, so they cannot all see the world the same way. Just because Longmore has not seen the issues other residents have seen, he added, that does not mean those residents’ experiences are invalid.
“I’ve experienced homophobia in St. Albans. And someone else who is gay, lesbian or bisexual might say, ‘I've never experienced it here,’” Kelly said. “That doesn't mean either of our truths are wrong. That just means we have different experiences.”
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