Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Cambridge Democrats, during an at times tumultuous virtual meeting Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee, Ward 3 members brought forward a resolution regarding last summer’s homophobic attack on Alex Morse, an openly gay congressional candidate, and the accountability we felt was needed to address the actions by state party leadership – actions that caused significant harm. Our resolution was defeated in a dispiriting process, and participants were forced to endure instances of both veiled and overt homophobia that mirrored the very criticisms made in the resolution text. To address the harm that was caused and for the good of the party, I call for George Goverman and Jim Roosevelt to resign from their roles on our committee and all other formal roles they hold within the Democratic Party.

As context, last summer, a letter containing unsubstantiated and uninvestigated allegations of misconduct against Morse was leaked to the public just weeks before election day. Students claim Roosevelt, the state party’s attorney, told them to leak the letter, something he denies. Not long after, text message screenshots surfaced that revealed the allegations against Morse to have been falsified as part of a premeditated scheme to reelect Morse’s opponent, the incumbent Richard Neal. The sequence of events and spread of misinformation damaged Morse politically and professionally in a way that was all too familiar to members of the LGBTQ+ community. The Bay State Stonewall Democrats called the incident a “reckless attack” that perpetuated homophobic tropes. Openly gay state Sen. Julian Cyr lamented the “chilling” and detrimental effect that it would have on future queer candidates. Many have pointed out the great disservice it did to actual victims and survivors of sexual assault. The students apologized sincerely in recognition of the harm they caused.

At Wednesday’s meeting, our resolution asked CDCC members to support asking state party chair Gus Bickford to resign over his role in the incident, and it also would have declared “no confidence” in his leadership. This serious demand was made only after much deliberation and in solidarity with the many LGBTQ+ leaders of our party who called for it as a necessary step toward healing. The Bay State Stonewall Democrats expressed extreme disappointment in the party leadership’s refusal to “acknowledge and apologize for their actions in perpetuating a homophobic attack from within the Democratic Party.” The Boston Globe’s editorial board wrote that the way the incident “played out raises serious questions about the competence and ethics of the current state party leadership and raises the question of whether they can be trusted to conduct fair play in future primary seasons.”

At the fall CDCC meeting, when the resolution was proposed originally, discussion was delayed via a procedural maneuver. Then, at Wednesday’s meeting, opponents filed a cynical amendment by substitution at the last minute that caused confusion and poisoned the spirit of debate. Rather than propose a compromise, the amended language attempted to sidestep the important issues entirely. Every parliamentary trick in the book was used to prevent an honest and necessary discussion around the type of inclusive leadership we want our state party to have.

The meeting had already turned homophobic and distressing long before Goverman called me a “fa****.” His use of the slur was obviously a deep offense, but it would be a mistake to fixate exclusively on that moment. Before Goverman’s comment, Roosevelt’s argument implied that the slanderous allegations lobbed against Morse were actually true, a position that denies the reality of the bigoted smear. As a heterosexual man, Roosevelt doesn’t get to decide what is homophobic and what isn’t, especially when so many queer community leaders have already called it a homophobic attack. It is galling to me that Roosevelt would contest the homophobia of the incident, and I’m honestly not even sure he realizes just how hurtful his commentary was.

Roosevelt’s veiled homophobia empowered Goverman, who, 10 years ago, filed a personal amicus brief in support of upholding the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era law ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court, paving the way for marriage equality nationwide. The callousness of Goverman’s amicus brief and his other writings cannot be understated. His actions are unsurprising and cannot be excused by his age or his level of Zoom proficiency. The offense was his saying the slur, not the fact that we heard it. The fact that members heard it amounts to nothing less than an unmasking of hate that has been lurking quietly for years.

We must recognize the slur as an indictment of the unwelcoming nature of our committee, which is overwhelmingly cis-het and white, but the entire meeting was a discomforting reminder of just how much work must be done to reform the Democratic Party even in a place such as Cambridge. Goverman and Roosevelt are party insiders and gatekeepers who, like Gus Bickford, have long perpetuated a predatory environment within the party. Their continued presence makes it impossible to begin healing from the divisiveness they have caused. They must resign. For Roosevelt, this also means resigning as co-chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. Our city, the literal birthplace of marriage equality in this country, should not be represented on the national stage by someone who has caused so much pain to the queer community.

The outpouring of solidarity over the past few days has been tremendous, and I am fortunate to have such a supportive community. I refuse to let intolerant actions on the part of party insiders dictate the terms on which I engage with the Democratic Party. I am proud to have been elected by the voters of Ward 3 to represent them in this space, and it is a privilege to serve. I hope that you will join us in the important work of rebuilding our local party into something we can be proud of. There has never been a better time to join your Democratic Party Ward Committee and to get involved.

Dan Totten is vice chair of the Ward 3 Democrats within the Cambridge Democratic City Committee.