Not In Our Town. New Downers Grove group battles community divisiveness

(From left) Sarah Bacon Ehlers, Kiki Ehlers, Elke Ehlers, Robin Tyroff and Dima Ehlers have helped to organize a Not in Our Town movement in Downers Grove. The organization is designed to combat the divisiveness growing in the village and promote inclusiveness.

After noticing a recent surge in hatred, racism and bullying in the Downers Grove area, a handful of residents believed they had a decision to make: ignore it or address it head-on.

They have chosen the latter by forming a local Not In Our Town group.

A project of the Oakland-based nonprofit The Working Group, NIOT is a movement of participating communities working against hate, racism and bullying and building safe, inclusive communities and schools for all.

“A group of us had become concerned about the divisions that seem to be building in the community,” Downers Grove resident Robin Tryloff said. “In my research I found out about this movement and it resonated with what we were looking for … to push back against all the divisiveness we’ve seen in Downers Grove and some of the surrounding communities.”

Last fall, for instance, a series of threats prompted the Downers Grove Public Library to cancel a drag queen bingo event for teenagers set to take place Oct. 11 to coincide with National Coming Out Day.

The year before, a push to remove the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from the library shelves at Downers Grove North and South high schools because of its LGBTQ+ themes brought members of the far-right Proud Boys group to a school board meeting to protest.

“It’s one thing that people spoke out in opposition,” Tryloff said. “It’s quite another that it got so nasty and people got so angry. So in our ideal world we would make sure that Downers Grove is a safe and inclusive community for all.”

Community members can support the Downers Grove NIOT initiative by requesting a yard sign or business poster through the website that has been set up at http://BIT.LY/NIOT-DG.

According to the website, “given the antagonism, threats of violence and attacks on members of and institutions in our community (LGBTQIA+, people of color, the unhoused, the Downers Grove Public Library and its director and staff), a group of residents of Downers Grove has decided to use the Not in Our Town resources and concept to raise awareness and to indicate support for those being attacked, harassed and bullied in our community.”

“We realize having a community that’s safe and inclusive won’t happen tomorrow, but our first step is distributing these signs to raise awareness of our commitment to fighting hate and intolerance,” Tryloff said.

Downers Grove resident Kathryn Deiss is another member of the group.

For her, NIOT is an extension of what she already is doing as a co-chair of the EQuality Downers Grove community organization, which aims to create an accepting and equitable environment for LGBTQ+ people through education, support, social action and advocacy.

“In the process of working with that organization, it’s become clear over the past year and a half or so there’s a real schism in the village,” said Deiss, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “We certainly saw that with the hate speech directed at the library board and school board. It’s really hard to see a small village like this turn into such a hotbed of rancor.

“This is our attempt to find out are there people who are willing to stand up and say, ‘I don’t want this kind of behavior in my village.’ A lawn sign is just a lawn sign but the idea here is that we spark more conversations about what inclusivity means and get neighbors to talk to each other.”

Group members hope to see others from the community join them in the initiative.

“We’re anxious to build partnerships with and work alongside organizations that support marginalized communities and treat people with respect,” Tryloff said.