At TEAM Westport’s Thursday meeting, Jill Nadel, left, and Brian McGunagle talked about concerns posed by recent anti-Semitic and homophobic incidents. / Screenshots by John Schwing
TEAM Westport Chairman Harold Bailey Jr. called for an end to angry online rhetoric disparaging the group and its mission.

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — Denouncing “slanderous disinformation” circulating on social media, with the potential to trigger “dangerous” consequences, TEAM Westport must be proactively committed to making the town a “more welcoming community,” despite attracting fire from critics, its leader said Thursday.

Chairman Harold Bailey Jr., the multi-cultural advisory committee’s longtime chairman, began the group’s Thursday morning meeting by addressing what he said is the latest attempt to disparage TEAM, with online commenters trying to link the committee, school officials and Westport Pride to the recent arrest of a pedophile.

Characterizing such allegations as dangerous disinformation, Bailey said, “It has has to stop.” He  suggested the best way for TEAM to ensure civility is to remain focused on its mission of welcoming “people who are not like us,” which he said includes those of diverse racial, religious, ethnic and LGBTQIA identities.

Bailey added that he is proud of TEAM Westport’s record over the last two decades of helping to “open the door” to a more welcoming community for all. 

He said that has been particularly challenging the last several years when polarization of American society has spawned a growing number of attacks on TEAM’s constituent groups.

Jill Nadel, a member of the Anti-Defamation League, underscored Bailey remarks, telling the meeting the number of “hate incidents” in Connecticut has been “skyrocketing.”

Hate-based threats, Nadel said, prompted state officials earlier this year to approve legislation establishing a Hate Crime Investigative Unit in the Connecticut State Police force.

These threats, she said, primarily are driven by white supremacists, noting that “one in 10” Connecticut communities has had leaflets promoting white-supremacist propaganda scattered around town. Bailey said that occurred in Westport a few years ago.

Capt. David Wolf, of the Police Department’s professional standards division, said while there have no specific hate crimes reported recently in Westport, related incidents have typically been acts of vandalism.

Jewish communities “are on edge” as a result, Nadel said, and are stepping up security at many synagogues.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Brian McGunagle, founder of Westport Pride, who said the mass shooting at a gay bar in Colorado last month and a violent incident at a Norwalk gay bar in September, has troubled many in the local gay community.

TEAM Westport’s support for the gay community, he said, is much appreciated.

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.