New Bedford Mayor, City Councilor Denounce Councilor-Elect Oliver’s Memes
At least two New Bedford elected officials have issued statements denouncing the controversial Facebook posts of Ward 3 City Councilor-Elect Shawn Oliver, just as New Bedford High School LGBTQ+ students and their allies planned a midday protest at the school over the posts and called for elected officials to publicly denounce the memes.
Oliver, who beat out Carmen Amaral for the Ward 3 seat in Tuesday’s election, had come under scrutiny after the Coalition for Social Justice, which supported Amaral in the race, issued a press release with screenshots from Oliver’s personal Facebook page with reshares of memes over recent years that the organization characterized as “transphobic” and “misogynistic.”
Oliver had addressed the posts in the media, stating he didn’t mean to offend anyone with the posts, but he did not say whether or not he supported the sentiments behind the memes.
That led to New Bedford High’s LGBTQ+ student population planning a Friday protest, stating they feel threatened and completely unsafe by the councilor and the people who voted for him.” They also listed a number of demands, including having the city’s elected officials condemning Oliver’s posts.
Mayor Jon Mitchell was first to issue a statement Friday morning, posting to his own Facebook page.
“I have reviewed the crude images posted on Facebook by City Councillor-elect Shawn Oliver that purport to comment on transgender rights. I want to make clear that I categorically condemn the postings. Coming from an individual who is about to assume public office, they are especially abhorrent," Mitchell wrote.
"New Bedford has long distinguished itself as a city that honors and protects the rights of all of its residents, and the messages conveyed by the postings are antithetical to our core values," he wrote. "No matter how long ago the postings appeared, it is imperative that the councilor-elect repudiate them. The residents of the city and particularly Ward 3 need to be confident that he is committed to serving everyone.”
Councilor at Large Shane Burgo also issued a statement condemning Oliver’s posts.
“We continue to witness disturbing setbacks and rising hate and violence targeting transgender people in the United States and around the world. This is wrong. Those with marginalized genders and sexualities are entitled to all the rights, opportunities, and protections that belong to every human on this planet," he wrote. "LGBTQIA+ people are an essential part of families and communities —teachers, first responders, public officials, doctors, lawyers, front-line workers, and friends who enrich and strengthen our everyday lives.
"Hate in all its pernicious forms, including attacks on the transgender community, have no place in New Bedford and must be unequivocally condemned," Burgo wrote.
Carmen Amaral also issued a statement noting that neither she nor her campaign committee were involved in organizing the protest, as had been suggested by some.
“However, I respect our youth’s right to publicly and collectively declare their disapproval of Councilor-Elect Shawn Oliver’s social media posts as well as their decision to hold city leaders accountable for failing to condemn such speech and promote an inclusive community where all children feel accepted and safe. There is no democracy without accountability,” she said.
“Elected officials have a responsibility to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding in their language and actions,” Amaral said. “There is no place for speech that is harmful to marginalized communities because it stigmatizes and discriminates against already vulnerable groups and contributes to a climate of fear and hostility. It creates division and conflict within society by pitting different groups against each other and fostering a sense of ‘us versus them’ rather than promoting unity and understanding.”
“I am an educational and community leader. I have tremendous respect for young people and believe they have much to teach us. As adults with different lived experiences, it is our responsibility to listen to them, learn from them, and give them the tools to work towards a future in which they feel safe and can thrive,” she said. “As always, I will continue to advocate for vulnerable groups, and promote a culture of inclusivity, respect, and empathy to build an even better New Bedford for all.”
In an appearance on WBSM Friday morning, prior to the protests, Oliver said he “applauded the students for exercising their Constitutional right” to protest and “to let their voice be heard.”
“It’s actually heartwarming that they’re passionate to do so, and I know that it’s not an easy thing to do, so I absolutely applaud them in that,” he said.
When asked if he denounces the message behind the memes, Oliver did not directly do so but did say there was “no malicious intent” behind the posts.
“My shared memes were not meant to be hurtful or disrespectful to anyone or any community. There was no hate or malicious intent behind it, though off-color and perhaps insensitive, I’m sorry that they were viewed as such,” he said. “I do look to bring diverse groups together, which is something that I said while campaigning, I look to meet with these different groups as I now navigate this road as a public servant.”
He also said it was not his intention for anyone to feel “threatened or unsafe” by his posts.
“That’s not a message that we’re trying to have here in New Bedford, especially here in Ward 3 where the high school is,” he said. “(I) want to reassure them that I am going to be a public servant for the people, and that’s all people, not just these small pockets of individuals, (but) an effort to really bring back a sense of community.”
Oliver said he would not be attending the protest, but would rather look to speak with the concerned students privately.
“I’m not looking to incite anything,” he said. “I want the children to be able to have their voices heard, have their opinion heard, and I do support their effort in doing so.”
City Council President Linda Morad, who was on WBSM with Oliver, stated she was “very concerned” if students at New Bedford High School were not feeling safe in their school.
“It does concern me that they're speaking publicly to say that they don’t feel safe,” she said.
Morad said she plans to call Superintendent of Schools Thomas Anderson next week to “ask him what efforts he and his team will be making to meet with these students and address their concerns about not feeling safe in the school environment.”
Morad, who has a nephew who has been openly gay for many years, cited the council’s standing policy not to publicly admonish fellow councilors in why she had not denounced his comments.
I’m hoping that people understand and respect that,” she said. “Councilor-Elect Oliver has different opinions than I have, this one included. I don’t believe that the council as a whole in any way should denounce or have any negative feelings or take any negative action about any group in our community, including the LGBT community.”
“It saddens me that public citizens, private citizens, anyone would make derogatory comments toward the LGBT community, or any community or group, but we are a group and we need to work together,” she said. “Councilor-Elect Oliver is not the only person I’ve had disagreements about opinions in my 20 years on the council, but we work together to do the right thing for the city and for the citizens that we represent.”
Listen to Council President Morad and Councilor-Elect Oliver's WBSM appearance here: