Local

‘Neighbor against neighbor’: Christmas tree ban at Dedham library leads to public consternation

"This behavior is not a true reflection of our commitment to lead with kindness and civility."

A decision to not display a Christmas tree at a Dedham public library this holiday season has unleashed a slew of online threats and bullying, the town said Thursday.

Town officials condemned the vitriol in a statement, writing the matter has now pitted the community against itself.

“The Town of Dedham stands in support of all town staff targeted by recent online threats and bullying. Unfortunately, a recent social media post expressing disagreement with the decision to display a holiday tree at the library has quickly evolved into a polarized environment and has led to the harassment and bullying of town employees,” the statement from the Town of Dedham reads. “We wholeheartedly condemn this behavior as it tears at the fabric of our community and cannot be tolerated.

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“We continue to encourage constructive conversations and healthy debates, but because of social media and outside sources, what could have been something of legitimate discourse turned neighbor against neighbor, and has threatened the safety and well-being of community members and staff,” the statement continues. “This behavior is not a true reflection of our commitment to lead with kindness and civility.”

Controversy first flared when Lisa Desmond, the library’s Endicott branch supervisor, posted about the tree’s absence on Facebook on Dec. 2 after she was told the decoration would not be displayed this year because “‘people’ were made uncomfortable last year looking at it,” she wrote.

“I’m sorry WHAT? In my 28 years at the Dedham Public Library, I have never heard a negative comment,” Desmond wrote. “We have celebrated and included everyone in our community.”

Desmond told WBZ NewsRadio she was informed of the decision from the library director.

“It’s about community, love, and unity. Not to exclude anybody. The decision was made instead of maybe putting heads together— we can call it a ‘seasonal tree,’ we can call it whatever you want,” Desmond told the station.

Her social media post soon became popular online — it was shared over 237 times as of Thursday — and quickly evoked strong reactions from commenters, with many people expressing support for keeping the tree.

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But Desmond also faced backlash to her post.

“I was actually put into a category with murderers — that was probably the lowest point I’ve ever had,” Desmond told WBZ.

Some of the criticism came from a member of the town’s Human Rights Committee, who, according to another post by Desmond on Tuesday, made a long, expletive-heavy post alleging Desmond “put people’s lives in a lot of danger.”

Desmond wrote she contacted police in response. The Human Rights Commission said Tuesday the member, Diane Loud, had stepped down from her position.

Loud could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In the town’s statement, officials acknowledged “the varied perspectives” they have heard from residents, but did not say whether the outpour of criticism changes the no-tree policy.

“Community engagement and public discussion are cornerstones of local government, and we encourage our residents to participate in our open, constructive dialogues,” the statement reads. “We look forward to continued public engagement and for the opportunities to work together toward shared goals. We strive to make Dedham a welcoming community for all, where differences can be celebrated, not attacked.”

Earlier this week, Desmond called on residents to consider raising the issue with the Board of Library Trustees. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night.