A Reckoning Over Homophobia in the Democratic Party

Ryan Grim speaks to Democratic Party activist Dan Totten about the homophobic slur directed at him during a Cambridge Democrats Zoom meeting.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images


On January 13, the Cambridge Democratic City Committee met to discuss a resolution calling for the resignation of Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford. The resolution was an attempt to reckon with the state party’s complicity last summer in the release of allegations against Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse — who was running against U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in a primary for his congressional seat — pertaining to his time as an adjunct professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The allegations were vague and did not include any behavior that violated the law or UMass policy, merely suggesting that Morse had had consensual relationships with adult students. The proposed resolution charged Bickford with “aiding and abetting an attack on a LGBTQ candidate.” But the vote turned ugly as one member, who said he forgot his mic was on, used an anti-gay slur against Dan Totten, one of the members arguing for the resolution. Totten joins Ryan Grim to discuss the incident; Grim then speaks to attorney Jim Roosevelt, a Democratic Party official who played a role in last summer’s allegations and was also at the Cambridge Dems meeting.

[Introduction music.]

Ryan Grim: Welcome back to Deconstructed. I’m Ryan Grim.

Last Wednesday, the University of Massachusetts released the findings of an extraordinarily unusual investigation. The school had decided to probe the dating life of one Alex Morse, a former adjunct at the college who, as a candidate for Congress, had been accused of inappropriate behavior by the local College Democrats who, it turned out, were largely supportive of his opponent, the powerful Ways and Means chair Richie Neal, one of the more outspoken foes of Medicare for All in the Democratic caucus.

Upon closer examination, there were no actual allegations leveled by the College Democrats, who had instead leaked a vague letter barring him from future events for unspecified wrongdoing. As the days and weeks went on, not a single specific allegation surfaced from anywhere or from anyone, despite the university offering the public a hotline to call with any damning information about Morse. Yet despite not having an allegation to investigate, the school hired a law firm to investigate anyway. The report concluded that Morse had violated no school policies.

Now, Morse was elected mayor of Holyoke at the age of 21. Holyoke is about 30 minutes away from UMass Amherst, a school that has around 30,000 students. That’s nearly the size of Holyoke. Morse, for several semesters while in his 20s, taught a single course on government that met once a week. The school bars relationships between teachers and students, an entirely reasonable policy. It does not bar an adjunct from dating every single one of the 30,000 graduate and undergraduate adults at the university.

The report confirmed our earlier reporting that the Massachusetts Democratic party was involved in writing and publicizing the College Democrats’ letter, which the party had denied at the time. But the report also found that Morse did nothing wrong, yet the school still published intimate details of his dating life anyway. The whole thing smacked of retrograde homophobia — a homophobic investigation into a homophobic smear. Morse is considering legal action, but that wasn’t the only development in the case last Wednesday.

That evening, Cambridge City Democrats met to debate a resolution put forward by one of its local wards, which wanted the Cambridge City Democrats condemn the state party for “aiding and abetting an attack on a LGBTQ candidate” — and call for the resignation of Gus Bickford, the party’s statewide boss.

The debate, which included nearly a hundred club members, is a fascinating window into the contemporary Democratic Party, which is at once rightfully proud of its willingness to denounce racism and bigotry, fly gay pride flags, or put up black lives matter lawn signs, yet continues to prop up and participate in projects that perpetuate and exacerbate racism and bigotry. It may never have been on starker display than during that three-hour meeting in Cambridge, and we have breathtaking audio of it for you.

Dan Totten is vice chair of the ward that put forward the resolution. And he joins us now on Deconstructed.

Dan Totten, thanks so much for joining us on Deconstructed.

Dan Totten: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

RG: So set the stage for us. How did this Wednesday meeting come about?

DT: So, this was a regular monthly meeting of our Cambridge Democrats City Committee, right, which is the local chapter of the Democratic Party here in Cambridge. And the business at this meeting was a resolution brought forward by Ward 3, which is Central Square-area, which is where I live.

Speaker: OK, so now we come to the business of the evening, which is: we need to consider the resolution that was proposed by Ward 3.

DT: So my ward brought forward this resolution, which called on Gus Bickford to resign as chair of the state’s party over his role in the Alex Morse scandal of last summer. And it also declared no confidence in his leadership.

Speaker: We therefore no longer have confidence in Gus Bickford as the current chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and we call upon Gus Bickford to resign and a new election to be held.

DT: People came to the meeting to discuss and debate that resolution. And, you know, we had 100 people there. So a lot of people were sort of interested in — we had already passed this out of our ward, meaning, you know, our ward committee had discussed the resolution and passed it onto the full committee. So we had already had our discussion, and that was going to the full committee.

RG: And there was language in it that said something along the lines of that the party had aided and abetted a homophobic smear. What was that language? And what was the point that you were trying to make with that?

DT: You know, there’s a lot that can be said about what happened last summer, but when you really, really look carefully at the careful reporting that was done, after the fact — as well as the reporting that was done in the moment, including by The Intercept — you just see this pattern of clear interference in this election in a way that, you know, a lot of people perceived to be homophobic. And that starts at the beginning where, you know, we know that Gus Bickford got a meal with Alex Morse and tried to talk him out of running for that seat, and tried to suggest —

RG: And later denied having done so.

DT: Exactly. Exactly. And tried to suggest a different seat to have run in.

And then we know that when some college students approached the party with some, very vague allegations and asked for help and sort of asked, “What should we do from here?” Gus Bickford did not give them the legal advice that they should have gotten. Instead, he sent them to the party’s attorney, who they claim told them to leak the letter. So essentially, there’s just a number of steps there that it’s very clear that they had their hands all over this,

RG: Right. And so the party attorney was at this meeting last Wednesday. This is Jim Roosevelt, a grandson of Franklin Roosevelt.

Jim Roosevelt: I advised the College Democrats that they should have a verbal conversation with the mayor. They insisted on doing it in writing, against my advice, as Jacques’ report points out.

There were no false allegations in the letter that was sent to him. His response was that the allegations were correct, but then he did not intend to make anybody uncomfortable.

RG: What was your reaction when you heard that argument from Roosevelt?

DT: It was deeply hurtful, what he said. It was almost like he thought we were in a courtroom, right? And he made this callous argument that sort of lacked empathy and denied the homophobia of the incident.

It was just so offensive to me and a lot of people there, not just queer people who were at the meeting, but really a lot of people there were just taken aback.

RG: Right. Yeah, his claim that the allegations are true is a really rich one on a lot of different levels. Because what does he mean by “the allegations are true”? That he had consensual relationships with other adults? That seems to be what he’s saying, because nothing else has emerged since then that would qualify as an allegation. So was that your read that the allegation was that he was gay, almost?

DT: Yeah, I think, you know, and just just for the record, there was a recently released report as well that sort of indicated Alex. So anything that has come out in the meantime has sort of been in Alex’s favor.

But I think it’s a reasonable position for somebody to say, “I’m uncomfortable with what happened, even though it wasn’t in violation of university policy or Title IX or any other regulations.” But to twist it in the way he did, to say that he admitted to the allegations, that’s where the homophobia comes in. The allegations were falsified — the allegations were made up by somebody who was trying to make him look bad. And it’s further insulting that he would say he admitted to these, because as the report shows, Jim told the students to leak the letter. Now, he denies that, sure. But when you have two different student reports corroborating, “he told me to leak the letter.” That, to me, if we don’t listen to those students in that moment, then when are we ever going to listen to students?

RG: Right. So the opponents of your resolution proposed an amended version that basically said: We as Democrats are supportive of LGBTQ candidates, and we are opposed to kind of screwing them in primaries, and that and that we need to set up a process that kind of upholds the neutrality of the state party leadership. Am I right, that’s roughly kind of the amendment that opponents of your resolution wanted to have voted on?

DT: Yeah, so a couple things.

So one, it was a substitute amendment that was not shown to anybody ahead of time. So it was a little surprising, and I think that’s important for folks to know. That statement, completely sidestepped the controversial issues and was sort of just, oh, you know, here’s this nice thing that we can all feel good about.

The problem is when they did that, we never had a discussion about the issues at hand, because they were able to turn, all of a sudden, it became a discussion over which resolution we should pass and not the merits of our resolution.

RG: Right.

DT: And in taking out any reference to Gus Bickford, or there was a wrongdoing that happened, it’s sort of it’s a quiet way of saying nothing wrong happened. And there should have been a debate over it, and there should have been a vote, but to try to insert this amendment at the beginning, like that indicated to me that they didn’t feel they could win that argument.

RG: Right. It basically seemed to me like they replaced your resolution with a pride flag, and then put it up for a vote. And so I want to get to that vote.

DT: Yeah, I think that what you said is definitely a fair analogy.

RG: So then they do a roll call, and something startling happens. And there’s this response from a board member when you vote.

Speaker: Nancy Ryan: Nay. Sorry. Donald Summerfield

Donald Summerfield: Nay!

Speaker: Donald Summerfield: Nay. Dan Totten?

DT: Nay.

Speaker: Dan Totten: Nay.

George Goverman: You faggot.

Speaker: Did I hear what I thought I heard?

RG: What were you thinking in the moment when you heard that?

DT: So, you know, when you hear it, it’s quick. And so my first reaction was, “Wait, what? Did that happen? Did I hear that correctly?” If nobody else had reacted, I probably would have second guessed myself to the point where I wouldn’t have said anything.

A couple people in the Zoom chat also said, “What just happened?” And somebody, I think, said it on the recording as well.

RG: Yeah, you can hear that.

Speaker: The other thing I’d like to say is that many of us heard a homophobic slur against Dan Totten. And I think that we are all stunned and feel that it should be called out immediately.

Speaker: OK. Well, I didn’t hear it myself. But let me just say that if anybody made a homophobic slur against Dan Totten, Dan, we stand with you. And I think anybody that —

DT: So at that point, I grew confident in what I had heard, and you know, others clearly heard it too.

DT: Thank you. I would like to say something. I think there’s a difference between overt homophobia and systemic homophobia, and I think we’re getting an excellent lesson in that tonight.

But I just want to say that it was said and we have a recording of this meeting, so there’s no disputing it. And it was said by George Goverman immediately after I voted. If I have to pull up the recording, I will.

DT: At this point in the meeting, I knew we were going to lose the vote by like five or six votes. And Jim had just said what he said. And I was so numbed. What he said and losing this vote so closely was so painful that I was I was very much desensitized to — if this word, if this homophobic slur had come in a different context, I would have been much more taken aback. But here I was like: You know what? That’s kind of the natural extension of the argument that was just made.

RG: Mhmm. Mhmm. Later in the meeting, Dave Slaney made a version of that point. Let me play that here.

DT: I just want to make the observation that we can all — we should, obviously, and we’re all feeling very good now about condemning an explicit homophobic slur.

Well, what happened tonight was that a parliamentary ruse was used to prevent us from criticizing a state Democratic committee for participating in and condoning systemic homophobia. And we shouldn’t let our feeling good about responding to George’s inexcusable remark blind us to the fact that we had a chance to make a statement about homophobia, and we refused to do it. And the chair was complicit in that by going along with a parliamentary ruse.

That’s my opinion. I’m done.

RG: What was the reaction among the party members to Dave’s point?

DT: Yeah, I think it’s hard to gauge a reaction to Dave’s point, because there was so much chaos. But I want to be clear that I really appreciate his willingness to speak up.

You know, it’s not easy as a rank-and-file member on a Zoom call with 100 people to stand up and be an ally like that. And I think a lot of people were sort of thinking this kind of thing. And to have Dave kind of put himself out there and speak up was really heartening. I think he said what a lot of people on the call were thinking. And I also think it’s safe to say that it has become clear that his message may not even be understood by everybody in our committee.

It’s not clear to me that folks understand why what Jim said was homophobic. And somebody like Dave got it right away, and spoke up, and I really appreciate that. But we need to realize that part of the reason why I wrote this letter and did this whole thing was because I didn’t want us to — this is a moment where because we’re in Cambridge, and we’re all liberal, everybody had to stop, because there was a word that was said that we’ve collectively decided is unacceptable.

And that’s heartening because I’m told that even 20 or 30 years ago, that might not have been how it unfolded. But I wanted to use this moment — just like Dave said on the call — I wanted to use this moment to make people realize that it’s not just about that word, but it’s about the way that the conversation unfolded, the atmosphere that was allowed, the unwelcoming culture that was allowed to exist in the room.

And so I think I was heartened to hear Dave, and I think Dave’s message and my message is a message that we’re going to spend a long time trying to make some of these other members understand, and trying to help some of these other members understand.

RG: Right. So how quickly did you realize who it was? Or did you almost recognize the voice immediately?

DT: So I knew who it was immediately, because he didn’t have a video on and so his Zoom was just his name. And when he spoke, the name flashed on the screen. And so I knew right away who it was. Unfortunately, the recording does not capture that. I don’t really fully understand that. But it didn’t capture that.

But several other people also saw that and so, again, in the chat, it was like: “We know who it is.”

And, you know, despite the recording, not — and just to be clear, I did not know this man at all going into it. I wouldn’t have recognized his voice. I knew nothing about him. It’s important to note that he did immediately mail me a letter, and I can definitely send you a copy of the letter so you can read it.

RG: So was it an apology? Was it an explanation? What was the thrust of what he told you?

DT: So this letter is — it’s an attempt to apologize, certainly. He’s an attorney and he knows, he recognizes the potential repercussions of what happened. And he knew he had to react.

So this letter is very carefully worded, and says a lot of the right things. But there are two things that are very strange about it: One is that he sort of makes this argument, of course, like a lot of people have argued, that it was a mistake, because of Zoom, because he left his microphone off mute. And I don’t accept that at all, from anybody — Zoom mistakes, we’ve got to learn how to do Zoom. But he argues, and I’ll just read this quickly, he says, “It was not directed to you, or at you, or anybody, but only a rude objection to the position you expressed and meant for no one’s ears but my own. I have a habit of cursing my TV in the privacy of my home, which I’ve unfortunately carried over to Zoom.”

So the implication there, right, is that the incident wasn’t a problem, except for the fact that everybody heard it. And in addition to that, he also effectively admits to potentially yelling other slurs at the screen when he was on mute. So you know, my mind goes to other members of our committee, what is he yelling at the screen when they talk?

RG: Right? That’s not cursing, exactly. Like, that’s not the word that I would use to describe that type of an utterance.

DT: Exactly. It would have been one thing if he had swore at the TV, I think we all swear at the TV from time to time, but this is not a swear. And this is hurtful in a different way.

RG: So you end up losing a pretty narrow vote, as you had suspected, I think by six votes or so, which shows a deeply divided Democratic Party over this question. There were a lot of people that sided with you. And there was a kind of powerful moment at the end I want to play. The party Treasurer has an announcement that he makes.

Bill: I have an announcement. I was having trouble unmuting, sorry.

Speaker: OK. OK, well, go ahead.

Bill: So it seems clear to me that Cambridge Democrats are not welcoming to people like myself that are not regular, heterosexual people. And so I am resigning as the treasurer as of now.

Speaker: Jesus!

Speaker: OK, well. I’m sorry to hear that, Bill.

RG: What was the reaction to that among the rest of the party members?

DT: Yeah, so I’ll be honest with you, a lot of us had texted each other and just said, “leave,” after we lost the vote, because we were so taken aback by what had happened, and so frustrated that we just started texting each other, “just everybody — just leave.”

RG: When you say leave, you mean leave the party, or leave the meeting?

DT: Leave the Zoom.

RG: Right. Leave the Zoom.

DT: So most of our side had left the Zoom. And this was really the final minute. And I had stayed because I was the one telling people to leave.

But I was really taken aback by Bill’s resignation. Bill is somebody who has poured his heart and soul into the city committee. He is a long-time sort of volunteer on this front, he managed all the finances and put so much work into it. And, you know, Bill, and I don’t agree on everything, but for somebody like him to leave, it really shows that there’s a deeper problem here than just that one word.

And knowing what we know about George, which I don’t know if you’re aware, that George had, in 2011, filed a personal amicus brief in opposition to a case that was trying to legalize marriage, right? And it’s very hurtful, very hurtful. People are aware of this, right. So you know, if that had been the only — it’s clear to me in that moment that this has been a burden for a lot of us who don’t identify as straight or for anybody who identifies as different. And in that moment, that became clear.

RG: Right. And what I think people have to understand who aren’t involved in this level of kind of political activity is that — correct me if I’m wrong — but it’s not just a political organization. These clubs, there’s a reason they call them clubs, you know? These clubs become social organizations as well. It’s where you meet people that you form lifelong friends with. You end up organizing some of your social life around this activity. And it gives meaning to your life.

And for somebody who’s been that active, and who’s made it such a part of their life to quit, they’re not just making a political statement. They’re sacrificing. They’re giving up a big part of their life as well. Is that a fair way of putting it?

DT: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, Bill is my neighbor. I can look out the window and see his house. And we’re all, at the end of the day, we’re all neighbors and friends. And yeah, this is a big part, especially when we’re not faced with a pandemic, I mean, we get together at people’s houses, we have backyard events, there is a social component, too.

I want to be clear, though, that these are elected positions, right? And the voters of Cambridge elected these people back on the presidential primary day, and they might not even realize, but George and Jim are both members who have been members for at least 20 years. And when you have been a member of the party for 20 years, in Massachusetts, you become what’s called a lifetime member, and the bylaws, it’s very hard to remove lifetime members. And so when leadership went to George and said, “You need to resign over this.” He basically said, “No, because I’m a lifetime member and I’m a lawyer, and I’ve read it, the bylaws don’t have a provision for removing lifetime members.” So, you know, we’re sort of still figuring that out.

But it just shows you that yes, it is a social club, it is a neighbor club, all of that is part of it — perhaps too much — because at the same time, it’s also an elected position. And I think that the idea of it being like a neighborhood thing, a social thing, has upsides, but it’s gone too far in that direction, to the point where now it’s almost like a fraternity.

And you’ve got, and I don’t know how familiar you are with the City of Cambridge. But the western half of Cambridge, west of Harvard, is very different from east of Harvard. And the vote aligned almost perfectly: Jim lives in West Cambridge, and most a lot of the votes in opposition came from there, and almost all of the votes in support came from the Central Square area where I live. So there are economic, class differences, at play here as well.

RG: In West Cambridge, you’re going to also see pride flags all over the place, as well.

DT: Oh sure. And lawn signs.

RG: Exactly. Have you had any success in getting through with the idea that the explicit bigotry that they heard, and so rightfully condemned, was an extension of the implicit bigotry that drove the rest of the agenda? Or do you think that fell on deaf ears?

DT: You know, I think the jury is still out. I think because I put my statement out — I called for both men to resign — about 48 hours ago. And so I think the jury’s still out in terms of how folks will react to it. It’s been quiet, right?

I think people were eager to condemn the use of the homophobic slur, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. But I think it is going to be harder to get people to see that it’s sort of part of a larger problem. And that what Mr. Roosevelt said kind of created a space that that kind of drew out this other guy. You know, the difference between Jim and George: George is like, openly homophobic. He’s not pretending to be accepting. And so Jim’s statement really created an atmosphere where that could exist and where he felt, in his own way, comfortable slurring at the Zoom, and doing this and doing that.

And I’m not expecting people to jump behind the call to remove both of them, because Jim’s a very powerful man, right? Jim Roosevelt calls the shots at every level of our party. He’s calling the shots in this meeting right here. He calls the shots at the Massachusetts State Committee, he’s calling the shots in those meetings. And he’s Chair of the Rules Committee at the DNC. And so he’s very powerful; people are afraid of him and consider him untouchable. And so I don’t expect folks to come out in support of that second piece. I hope some people will, but you know, I’m not counting on it.

RG: Well, Dan, thanks for sharing your story, anyway. Hopefully, it reaches somebody.

DT: Yeah, I really appreciate it, and appreciate the reporting that you guys have done. There has been no justice in this case for so long, and it’s been so painful to so many of us.

The last thing I want to say is that I spoke to somebody yesterday, who I had recruited to come to our meeting. This is sort of a disaffected Bernie supporter who was on the roll, and so I knew could vote, but doesn’t usually show up to our meetings. And so I called him up. And I said, you know, “Will you come? I’m asking you to come.” And he said, “Sure.”

And he actually resigned from the ward and city committees over what happened, he was so, so upset. And he did that before I even had a chance to speak with him. Right? And so, you know, what kind of a message does it send? Is this really the party we want, where I get told all the time as a progressive, as a leftist, as a socialist, as a Democratic Socialist, that when I enter these spaces with my demands, I’m being disruptive and I’m not working towards party unity. But what does it say when we bring in somebody new, and they’re so disillusioned by what they see that the next day they resign? Like, that’s not the kind of party we want. That’s not the kind of party I want.

You know, a lot of progressives like myself worked really hard to make sure that we don’t, that we didn’t have four more years of Donald Trump. And we’re not represented in leadership at any level, like we are on the ground, right? And it’s time to change that.

And the one thing I would say to people is: if you’re frustrated — a lot of people come to me and they say they’re upset, they’re frustrated, they want to do something — join your local city committee, join your local ward committee. I mean, if you live in Cambridge, we’ve got a big vote next month. If you live anywhere, right, these things exist all over the country and I would bet anything that you could show up to that and make a difference. If you’re young, if you’re not white, if you’re not straight, you’re gonna show up to that space, and you’re gonna realize how much work we have to do.

RG: Work worth doing. And so much of this story is the Democratic Party in microcosm from start to finish. And we’ll continue following it, if only for that reason alone.

Thanks for joining us, and hope to have you back again soon.

DT: Yeah, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: I reached out to George Goverman for his reaction, and he declined to do a recorded interview, but agreed to answer questions. I asked if it was true he had reached out and apologized and he told me, “I have reached out and as far as why I said it, I think it’s pure stupidity, and that’s about all I can say. I really didn’t know I was on an open mic.”

I pointed out that that sounds like the only problem for him was that his mic was on, and that he talks like that often.

He told me: “I don’t use that word except to myself and very rarely to myself. It was not meant to go out to the meeting. I mutter things to myself and that’s one of them. One of the things I mutter to myself is ‘communist.’ Because I’m an old guy and back when I was growing up, anything I disagreed with would have to be communist. So it’s just a bad habit. Even when I agree with someone, I sometimes will say ‘communist’ … it’s a silly thing.”

I asked George if he planned to resign, and he said that he was leaning in that direction. And later that evening, I learned that he had, in fact, resigned.

I told him that people at the meeting felt that while his blurting out of a slur was the most explicit expression of homophobia, that the entire push against the resolution was as well. He declined to comment on that specifically, but I asked how he was impacted by the treasurer’s resignation at the end of the meeting.

“I was very upset that Bill tendered his resignation,” he told me. “That was very disturbing, and of course I thought that I had precipitated it, and then apparently that wasn’t necessarily the case. I later learned that he was upset about what you implied, a vote down of the original resolution.”

Now, finally, I wanted to get Jim Roosevelt’s take, to see if any of the fallout since last Wednesday’s meeting had changed how he thought about the entire affair.

[Phone line ringing.]

JR: Hello, this is Jim.

RG: Hey Jim. It’s Ryan. How are you doing?

JR: Good, Ryan. Thanks.

RG: Thanks for taking a couple of minutes. Now, I’ll be quick because I know it’s late. I want to get your take on the meeting from last week. Is that alright?

JR: Sure.

RG: The main thing I’d like to get your reaction to was the idea that was put forward during the meeting by a number of people who said that look, yes, it’s great that everybody condemned the explicit bigotry that came from George in that meeting. But what people needed to also recognize is that there was a softer, subtler kind of homophobia at work in not taking the opportunity to condemn what was behind the attack on Alex Morse. And I know that you’ve kind of rejected that idea in the past. And I wondered what your take on that was given the kind of visceral nature of the meeting?

JR: Well, the meeting was, by the time we got to the resolution, a debate on whether to pass a resolution expressing no confidence in the state party chair and calling for his resignation, or whether instead take a strong stand in favor of LGBTQ rights and participation in politics, but not get into repudiating the state party chair who was just recently reelected. So that was what the discussion was about.

RG: Well, the key element of the first resolution seemed to be the line that said that the party was aiding and abetting an attack on an LGBTQ candidate. And that was the part that the advocates of it wanted affirmation for. And I think that was the part that they felt like they didn’t get affirmation for because it was substituted. Do you think if they would have taken out Bickford, but put in language around aiding and abetting an attack on an LGBTQ candidate, it would have had a better chance?

JR: No, because that didn’t happen. You know, there was that full investigative report by former state senator — the first openly lesbian state senator, Cheryl Jacques — which found no homophobic intent.

RG: But she didn’t really make a ruling on intent, right?

JR: The Rules Committee actually reviewed this about 10 days ago, maybe two weeks, and ruled that she did make a finding on intent, yes.

RG: What do you make of so many people, and not just members of the LGBTQ community who believe that this was homophobic? What was done to Alex Morse, at least.

JR: I think they’re misinformed; I don’t think they understand the facts of what happened. Now, I’m not saying that there was no homophobic motivation by any of the students. But I don’t have any way of knowing that one way or the other. There’s some pretty good evidence there was some careerist motivation on the part of some of the students —

RG: Hmm.

JR: — whether there was any homophobic intent, I don’t have any way to know.

RG: When it comes to the George Goverman comments, did you hear that in real time? And he told me he’s considering resigning from his position on the board. Do you know if that’s gonna happen, or —?

JR: He did resign earlier tonight.


JR: I did not hear it in real time; I must have been looking at my Robert’s Rules of Order or something like that. [Laughs.]

RG: Yeah.

JR: But a lot of people have told me they did. And then there’s a tape available of it.

RG: Have you talked to Dan Totten since then, or any of the other people who were upset that night? The treasurer, I don’t know if you were still at the meeting, but the treasurer at the very end resigned. And he’s been a very active member of the party for a very long time, and felt that it wasn’t a welcome place anymore.

JR: I did. I was still on the call, and I was very disappointed that that happened. He’s a great guy and has done a great job. And I’m hoping that he can be persuaded.

I think that was what Goverman said. And clearly Bill was very upset about that. I’m hoping he can be persuaded to reconsider that.

RG: You had said that Morse confessed, or he had acknowledged that the allegations were true. But the only allegations that were ever really made were that Alex had had relationships with other adults, some of whom happened to be students at a university that was 30 minutes away from where he lived, and where, in the past, he had taught a once-a-week, adjunct course. There’s no policy against somebody in their 20s, who teaches one course there dating people at that college. And so what people have thought, OK, the entire thrust of this is homophobic because it’s judging these relationships.

JR: I get that feeling on the part of Dan and even Alex. In fact, it is absolutely true that the — I don’t know if you’ve read the UMass investigation.

RG: Mhmm.

JR: They found that for years students had been made uncomfortable by Alex’s activities, but that it did not violate university policy because he was careful that they were not in his classes. He didn’t supervise them, or hire them, or anything like that. And, you know, if it was at Harvard or MIT, that would have been prohibited, but it was not prohibited at UMass.

RG: Well, the report interestingly — I did read it — and the witnesses, the students that they interviewed, most of them said that they actually hadn’t felt uncomfortable in their exchanges with Alex, but then after the rumor mill got going, and they were told by other students that they ought to feel uncomfortable, that they said, “OK, well, then maybe in hindsight, I do feel uncomfortable.”

JR: Yeah. That’s true. That’s what I read as well. Yep.

RG: Right.

JR: That’s what I read as well. And the original letter that the students wrote didn’t make any distinction between whether it was men, women, straight men, straight women, whatever was involved. It was just the question of the power relationship.

RG: And you had said you helped them take out some potentially defamatory elements of the letter. Is that right?

JR: That’s correct. Yes.

RG: Have you spoken with Alex since all of this?

JR: I have never spoken with Alex. Never. No. [Chuckles.]

RG: Anything else that you want to share?

JR: The only thing that I would share is that to the extent that Dan, I don’t know but my wife does, they’ve worked together on some city issues, Dan somehow thinks that I am homophobic. And all I can say is nothing could be further from the truth. And you can talk to many, many gay, lesbian, and queer individuals who will all tell you I’ve been great supporters of theirs.

[End credits theme.]

RG: That was Jim Roosevelt, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

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