- The Magazine
Two LGBTQ candidates seeking seats in Congress fell short in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in Massachusetts, failing to unseat two long-term conservative incumbents.
Progressive Democrats Alex Morse and Robbie Goldstein challenged longtime incumbent U.S. Reps. Richard Neal and Stephen Lynch.
In Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District, Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, garnered 41% of the vote against 16-term incumbent Neal, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which crafts tax policy.
In the state’s 8th Congressional District, Goldstein, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who started its Transgender Health Program, won 33% of the vote against ten-term incumbent Lynch, the chair of the National Security subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Besides campaigning on a slew of progressive issues, such as support for single-payer health care, the Green New Deal, and criminal justice reform, both Morse and Goldstein also faced attacks that they allege played on negative stereotypes and perceptions of LGBTQ people.
For Morse, it was accusations that he had pursued relationships with college-aged students and used his position as an adjunct professor at UMass Amherst and as mayor to pressure students into consensual relationships, thereby creating a power imbalance.
Even though it was later revealed that members of the UMass Amherst College Democrats had sought out Morse in dating apps with the intent of entrapping him and releasing sensitive conversations to the press, he continued to battle rumors and innuendo about his alleged inappropriate behavior, with at least one push poll, a digital ad from a women’s group seeking out “victims” who had interacted with Morse, and an ad by a labor-aligned group that attacked him for “sexual relationships with college students.”
Morse’s supporters were incensed, arguing that the framing of the issue and the language used to describe the accusations — casting full-grown adults as “teenagers” — trafficked in homophobic stereotypes casting gay men as sexual predators.
Meanwhile, Goldstein’s campaign was dogged by a whisper campaign, as well as a push poll that some voters reported receiving, regarding his ties to the transgender community. While none of the statements read by the pollster to respondents were negative, all “facts” about Goldstein made sure to emphasize his work as the head of Mass General’s Transgender Health Program and his support for the transgender community.
LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed Morse but not Goldstein, issued a statement condemning the attacks against Morse even after it became apparent he had lost to Neal.
“The efforts to sensationalize and weaponize Alex’s sexual orientation certainly influenced the outcome of this race, but the backlash it engendered should give pause to those considering similar tactics in the future,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement.
“We are grateful Alex stayed in the race and took the body blows necessary to expose the double standards too often placed on LGBTQ candidates. His campaign contributed to a larger conversation about how candidates of color, women candidates and LGBTQ candidates face a level of scrutiny and sensationalism that straight white cisgender men simply do not.”
Parker added: “LGBTQ candidates are facing a growing number of homophobic and transphobic attacks this year and whether they succeed or fail will set an important precedent for the future. While Alex’s loss is disappointing, it proved our community and our allies can respond forcefully in exposing the dog whistles and stereotypes that too often haunt LGBTQ candidates. We will not allow attacks on LGBTQ candidates to go unanswered during the final two months of this election cycle.”
Several other candidates backed by Victory have been subjected to similar attacks, with the National Republican Campaign Committee seeking to highlight Texas congressional candidate Gina Ortiz Jones’s sexual orientation (and her support for transgender rights) on an attack site intended to be utilized by anti-Democratic super-PACs.
In Florida, Shevrin Jones, a candidate for State Senate, was targeted by robotexts referencing “homosexual conduct” with other men.
Despite their losses, Morse and Goldstein expressed hope for the causes they had championed, noting that voters are slowly embracing more progressive policy positions.
“This election might be over, but the fight for our core values continues,” Morse said in a statement on his Facebook page. “Together we will continue to move progressive values and priorities forward to build the better future our communities deserve. If one thing is clear, I know that we’re not done yet.”
Goldstein posted a similar message to his own campaign’s Facebook page.
“The disappointment we are feeling is real, but it is temporary; the change we are pushing for will come. This fight is only beginning. The voices this campaign uplifted are getting louder. This campaign was about the critical ideas and the changes we need,” he said.
“I got into this race because my patients need urgent, transformative change. My patients taught me that healthcare is about more than an insurance card in their pocket, that health is housing stability, food security, environmental justice, reproductive choice, racial equity. And over the last 10 months, our campaign has given voice to every one of these issues and uplifted those who have been on the frontlines fighting for change.”
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