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Somerville alderwoman says she was target of homophobic slurs

Posted by Jarret Bencks  May 15, 2013 11:26 AM

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The first openly gay member of the Somerville Board of Aldermen said she has been subjected to homophobic slurs since entering the public spotlight, and the mayor is admonishing anyone who may have made the comments.

Courtney half.jpgCourtney O'Keefe, the recently appointed alderwoman for Ward 5, said she was stunned by recent remarks about her sexual orientation.

"I've been out for 15 years, I've never had a problem with homophobic comments," she said. "I really did not think my sexual orientation would be a target, I've never made it a big deal before."

O'Keefe said she heard about the two remarks through friends. She said the first came on April 11 in the aldermen's chambers at City Hall, the night former Ward 5 alderman Sean O'Donovan announced his resignation and recommended O'Keefe be appointed to the seat.

O'Keefe said a friend in the audience overheard another unidentified audience member refer to her as the "dyke candidate."

A second incident occurred sometime after O'Keefe took office, she said. In that case, the individual suggested that a homophobic sign be placed in Magoun Square, O'Keefe's home neighborhood.

"It's mean, it's rude, and there's just no place in the city of Somerville for it," O'Keefe said.

On Tuesday, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone issued a public letter to residents rebuking homophobic remarks of any kind.

To read the letter, click here.

"Every human being deserves the right to respect, dignity, and decency," Curtatone wrote. "Know that in Somerville, these kinds of slurs and behavior will not be tolerated, regardless of whether the victim holds a public position or not."

Curtatone's letter did not mention O'Keefe specifically, but said homophobic slurs had been directed toward an elected official and friend.

O'Keefe said she was proud of the mayor for standing against the slurs.

"I was very emotional over it, to have somebody in his position stick right up for one of his colleagues, it really made me feel better," she said.

A lifetime Somerville resident, O'Keefe said the recent incidents were out of character for the city.

"The city has always been open," she said. "This is just a couple of people who are angry."

Joe Lynch, who ran against O'Donovan for the Ward 5 seat in 2007 and is also openly gay, said he experienced homophobic remarks during his campaign, including some from city workers.

He said was "shocked and annoyed" by the comments of Curtatone and of O'Keefe, who he said helped him in his 2007 campaign, and hoped it would not become a focal point of O'Keefe's election campaign in the fall.

"I would hope that the Mayor and candidate O'Keefe stick to the issues, and if there are provable hate crimes against Courtney or any other resident of this city, those allegations be reported to the appropriate entity," Lynch said in a statement.

"As my late Mother used to say to me, 'Joe, nobody is as interested in your sexuality as you are.'"

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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