Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Alex Morse accusations were homophobic smears

They achieved their objective

When the letter accusing Alex Morse was reported on Aug. 7, I was suspicious. It was vague, unsubstantiated and seemed designed to play into pernicious tropes conflating homosexuality and pedophilia. There was enough there to put that image in your head. Later the accusations were revealed to be a smear involving members of the UMass Amherst College Democrats, the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The fact that this attack got so much attention is disheartening and the involvement of party leadership is nauseating.

The original accusation did not claim that Morse had violated any UMass policies. It claimed that he had made students “uncomfortable,” matched and messaged with them on dating apps, and went to College Democrats events to meet students, though he attended only one such event since beginning his campaign. His actions violate neither Title IX law nor UMass policy. Morse promptly admitted to having consensual relationships with students, none of which had been students he taught. No one has come forward claiming to be one of Morse’s victims, no one had previously reported Morse to the school and no further accusations have surfaced.

Then private chats between leadership of the College Democrats were revealed. They show how Timothy Ennis, the former president of the chapter, and Andrew Abramson, his successor, tried to bait Morse. Ennis thought Neal would be his ‘in’ to politics and described himself as a “Neal Stan.” This is beyond a couple of college students in a particular chapter of the CDMA. Party leadership was involved, though I admit it is unclear to what degree.

There is a level of hypocrisy here that I find sickening. The Democrats brand themselves as a gay-friendly party and even though these appear to be a few individuals, they are all high ranking and well connected. It is not so much a betrayal if a Republican says or does something homophobic, I expect that. This is a case of our “allies” throwing us under the bus. I remember how almost everyone changed their position on gay marriage overnight, the minute the positive opinion polls came in. That tells me that those politicians only see us as a voting base and this scandal supports that.

Eoin Higgins’s investigation for The Intercept found that “while the allegations in the letter had received heavy play on local radio, television and print media, those later revelations did not, even after the state party was pressured by its rank and file into announcing an internal investigation into its own conduct.” We cannot be sure that this is why Morse lost the primary. However, the amount the media hyped this story initially, and the way they ignored it when it got more complex, should give us pause.

The most recent piece on this story in The Collegian covered an apology issued by the executive board of the UMass College Democrats. The executive board claimed that they had not leaked the letter and that they intended “to make college democrat events safer – not censure Morse’s sex life or pass judgment on his use of dating apps.” They apologized for the harm it had caused to the LGBTQ+ community and their own members. While I am glad they have issued an apology, they waited until three days before the election to do so and I would ask what they thought they were making these events ‘safer’ from? If they believed they were making their events “safer” implies they bought in to the stereotype they were perpetuating.

The New York Times summarized the whole affair, and quoted Joseph Fischel, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Yale University as saying “Americans are OK with gay politicians as long as they’re sexless.” In my experience, this fact is not just limited to politicians. For a lot people in this country today, if homosexuality remains an abstraction it doesn’t matter, but when it becomes real for them their prejudices come to the surface. At best, we gay men are forever pushed into playing the eccentric uncle with no sexual desire. According to Morse’s  internal polling“even when told that the smear had been trumped up and orchestrated by allies of Neal, the scandal still made one in five voters more likely to support Neal.”

What can I say about people willing to exploit these attitudes for political gain? Four words: They believe in nothing.

Joseph Ellis can be reached at [email protected].

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