New Bedford High Schoolers Protest New City Councilor for ‘Homophobic’ Posts
NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford High School students took a break in the middle of the school day on Friday to protest against newly elected Ward 3 City Councilor Shawn Oliver for Facebook posts that students have called "hateful" and "homophobic."
Oliver defeated his opponent Carmen Amaral in Tuesday's special election to claim the Ward 3 council seat recently vacated by former councilor Hugh Dunn.
Days before the election, an advocacy group that had endorsed Amaral sent out a release condemning Oliver for posting what it called "transphobic" and "misogynistic" memes to his Facebook page.
Some students had said that they "feel threatened...by the councilor and the people who voted for him" in a press release announcing the protest that was signed by "The Student Body of New Bedford."
But spirits were high outside New Bedford High School at 12:30 p.m. Friday, as more than 70 kids gathered with signs and rainbow flags.
They chanted "Be Gone Shawn" and cheered loudly whenever a passing vehicle honked in support.
Protest organizers Amarae Fernandes and Karina Garcia are both seniors at the high school.
They said they came up with the idea to walk out of class, but credited Fernandes' mother Fallon Fernandes with helping inspire them to get a large group of students involved.
"I'm a lesbian, so my mom highly supports me," Fernandes explained. "She very much is my biggest supporter when it comes to my sexuality, and me being me."
Garcia noted that she and Fernandes wanted to protest after learning about Oliver's Facebook posts, and were asking for an apology from him.
"It's about accountability," she said. "It's about him being a misogynist, it's about him — he doesn't support what he's trying to run."
"Our community in New Bedford is a very diverse community," Fernandes agreed. "How are you going to try to run us, and our school district, when all of us have a little bit of LGBTQ in 'em?"
"This generation," she added, "...it's the new normal!"
"This is all absurd," Garcia added. "Him not being able to respect us, why should we respect his decisions?"
The young activists added that they plan to protest again outside City Hall at 5 p.m. Friday.
Show of Support
Many of the students said they were there to show support for LGBTQ rights.
"It's crazy, I mean, it's 2023, we're still going at it with this homophobia, there's no trans rights," said freshman Jasmin Abrante. "And now they hired someone in the council that's blatantly homophobic?"
"It's been going on so long, and I think we deserve our respect already," she added. "Honestly, it just surprises me so much."
"I'm gonna be 100% honest, I did not know what was going on when I first came in," said junior Xavier Fernandez. "But I'm very glad that I came here, because I love the energy, the loudness, and the passion of this community!"
"I feel like by doing this, we are making a lot of young LGBT kids more comfortable with their identity," he added.
Freshman Owen Melancon said he wanted to join the protest to support his queer and LGBTQ friends.
"I think it's going pretty well," he said, comparing the crowd to the last concert he attended. "Honestly, I've never seen this many people care about anything...it's fun!"
School and City Officials
City Councilor-at-large Shane Burgo said he originally came to the high school to collect his goddaughter, but appreciated the engagement.
"I'm happy to see our students be politically involved," he said. "We look at the Ward 3 turnout — 6.8% turnout. I hope to see that reflected in their voter registration. I hope that they continue to use their political force to get involved."
Burgo has already condemned hate and attacks on the LGBTQ community in an issued statement, as has Mayor Jon Mitchell and Oliver's former opponent, Carmen Amaral.
School principal Bernadette Coelho was watching the protest with a handful of other teachers and administrators.
"I think that they are showing us a lesson in civics, and very responsibly are outside advocating for what they believe in," she said of the student activists.
"I think it's an opportunity for them to ensure that their voices are being heard, and they're doing it in a safe and respectful manner," she added. "I'm very proud of them."