The gay Mayor of a town in Massachusetts US has issued an apology after he was accused of abusing his position of power to initiate sexual relationships with college-aged students.
Alex Morse, a Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in Massachusetts and the youngest Mayor of Holyoke at age 22, was accused by three college groups of pursuing relationships with students while in a position of authority.
In a joint letter, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, UMass Amherst Democrats and Amherset College Democrats said Morse was “no longer welcome” at their events, and claimed there had been “numerous incidents over the course of several years”.
The letter, first reported by the Daily Collegian, alleged that Morse used his position as mayor, and his position as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, to pursue sexual and romantic relationships with students.
They said his conduct “made young college students uncomfortable”.
“We have heard countless stories of Morse adding students to his ‘Close Friends Story’ and direct messaging members of College Democrats on Instagram in a way that makes these students feel pressured to respond due to his status,” the letter said.
“Even if these scenarios are mutually consensual, the pattern of Morse using his platform and taking advantage of his position of power for romantic or sexual gain, specifically toward young students, is unacceptable.”
Responding to the letter, Morse said he wanted to apologise to anyone he had made uncomfortable.
“I want to be clear that every relationship I’ve had has been consensual. However, I also recognise that I have to be cognizant of my position of power,” he said.
“As I’ve become more comfortable with myself and my sexuality, like any young, single, openly gay man, I have had consensual adult relationships, including some with college students.
“Navigating life as both a young gay man and an elected official can be difficult, but that doesn’t excuse poor judgment.”
The Democrat issued a lengthy statement on Twitter, where he said he had “never used” his position as mayor or as a lecturer at the university for romantic or sexual gain.
“I have never violated UMass policy. Any claim to the contrary is false. As I’ve acknowledged, I have had consensual relationships with other men, including students enrolled at local universities that I’ve met using dating apps.”
My statement on the last 48 hours. pic.twitter.com/2RU5ht6jZ8
— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) August 10, 2020
Alex Morse said he believes an investigation will clear his name of “any unethical conduct”, but apologised for making students feel uncomfortable.
“This is unacceptable behaviour for anyone with institutional power,” he said.
The mayor insisted that he has never used his position of power in a ‘problematic way’.
“Further, for the past few years, there has been an important conversation underway in this country about power dynamics in romantic or sexual relationships.
“This conversation is long overdue – and while I never used my power in a problematic way, I understand why the issue would be raised.”
In a follow-up statement, the College Democrats of Massachusetts refuted claims that their letter “had anything to do” with Morse’s sexuality, calling the notion “untrue, disingenuous and harmful”.
“The mayor’s sexuality in no way excuses his behaviour. Many of the people involved in writing our letter to the Morse campaign are members of the LGBT+ community themselves.”
They closed their statement: “We extend our support to everyone affected by mayor Morse’s actions. Accountability is necessary.”