In a story that remains murky, progressive gay congressional candidate Alex Morse, current Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has been accused of sexual misconduct by three college Democrat groups.
On Thursday, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, along with the UMass Amherst Democrats and the Amherst College Democrats, sent Morse a joint email communicating that he was no longer welcome at their events, citing “numerous incidents [of inappropriate behavior] over the course of several years.”
The email did not outline specific stories from students, but instead provided a bulleted list of behaviors that the groups allege Morse exhibited. One student, the email said, had sex with Morse before finding out he is a mayor and a former UMass Amherst lecturer “and they felt uncomfortable after uncovering this information.”
They also said Morse had sexual contact with college students that included but were not limited to students from the school where he taught. It does not say whether Morse had any direct power over the students with whom he had relationships.
The groups allege he set his minimum age requirements on dating apps low enough to match with college students – including leaders of the groups – and took advantage of College Democrat events to meet students. They say he added students on Instagram and sent them Direct Messages.
The accusing email discussed how Morse made students “feel pressured to respond” to his Instagram messages “due to his status.”
In his response to this email, Morse, who was the youngest mayor in the history of Holyoke, elected in 2012 at 21 years old, admitted to having consensual adult relationships with college students and denied that any non-consensual sex took place. He did recognize, though, that he has to be “cognizant of my position of power.”
“Navigating life as both a young gay man and an elected official can be difficult, but that doesn’t excuse poor judgement,” he wrote. “That’s why I want to sincerely apologize to anyone I have made feel uncomfortable.”
Later, in a two-page statement responding to the allegations, Morse, now 31, apologized that he made some students feel uncomfortable, though he also said he “never used my power in a problematic way.”
My statement on the last 48 hours. pic.twitter.com/2RU5ht6jZ8
— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) August 10, 2020
He also added that the accusations are motivated by homophobia:
“To the many members of the queer community that have reached out to me in recent days, it’s clear that many of you feel that these recent events, and the language used in response, aren’t just an attack on me, but on all of us. You’re genuinely outraged, as am I, by the invocation of age-old anti-gay stereotypes.”
The College Democrats responded to this claim, saying the idea that their accusations had anything to do with Morse’s sexuality “is untrue, disingenuous, and harmful. The Mayor’s sexuality in no way excuses his behavior. Many of the people involved in writing our letter to the Morse campaign are members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves.”
A statement from the College Democrats of Massachusetts regarding our letter to Alex Morse: pic.twitter.com/3nmhzmA7of
— College Dems of MA (@CollegeDemsofMA) August 9, 2020
Some of Morse’s supporters seem skeptical and believe these accusations are rooted in the problematic stereotype of gay men as creepy and sex-obsessed.
In a long diatribe on Twitter, for example, Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for The Intercept criticized the College Democrats for collapsing into “old-time right-wing Puritanical moralizing in its attempts to police the consensual private lives of **adults**”.
Pete Buttigieg met Chasten on a dating app when Pete was a big powerful Mayor in his 30s. Chasten was just a childish powerless grad student almost a decade younger. The power differential & age gap made this like assault, consent impossible.
Solidarity with Chasten, a survivor.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 9, 2020
He reminded his followers that out former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg met his husband, Chasten, on a dating app while Buttigieg was the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and Chasten was a grad student and seven years his junior.
“The Dems trying to shame Alex Morse for having consenting sex with adults will cheer Bill Clinton’s prime-time DNC speech next month,” he added.
3/ Also unlike Morse, who is single, what the married Bill Clinton did was adultery. Still, there was an overwhelming consensus that what Clinton did was **nobody's business** because it involved adult consent. That's why he is welcome at every Democratic Convention to speak.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 10, 2020
Buttigieg, who served in the military, was closeted in his 20s and has insinuated that he was mostly abstinent before coming out. Morse was out when he ran and won public office shortly after graduating college.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, who has endorsed Morse and is standing by him, released a statement warning the media and voters to “review the allegations and determine whether a straight candidate would be held to the same scrutiny and standards.”
“Alex has been running for Congress for more than a year and this letter was released one week before the first debate and three weeks before the primary,” the statement said. “It is clear it was timed with the political calendar and without enough time for an independent investigation to be completed… We support the independent investigation by UMass, despite no complaints having ever been made to the university. But it is critical the media and others avoid reinforcing tired homophobic tropes or sensationalizing this story because of Alex’s sexual orientation.”
In Morse’s own statement, he said he will stay in this race and fully cooperate with the UMass investigation, though he completely understands if any of his endorsers would like to rescind their support.