Officials with the Maine Lobster Festival announced Monday that “sweeping changes” will be made to the event’s annual Sea Goddess competition following this year’s winner having to relinquish her crown over posts on her social media account.
Taylor Hamlin, 18, was initially named the 2018 Maine Sea Goddess at the lobster festival at the end of July, but a day later she says she was forced by festival organizers to step down after photos of her holding a marijuana cigarette and a Juul, a vaping device, were emailed to the competition officials.
“Everybody is a teen once and awhile,” Hamlin wrote on Facebook at the time. “I’m sorry to whoever didn’t receive the goddess they wanted and felt the need to sabotage this amazing thing that has happened to me.”
The board of the lobster festival said it has tried to keep comments on “this polarizing issue to a minimum out of respect for the Hamlin family and for Taylor.”
But in a statement released on Monday, the board shared more details on the decision-making process that led to the controversy and sparked backlash against the festival.
“Immediately after the coronation, our committee chair began receiving several messages indicating that the public persona on social media of our Sea Goddess was something to be concerned about,” the board said in the statement. “Eight photographs were received and confirmed via multiple independent sources that illustrate illegal behavior and a pride in that behavior and persona. The images have not been doctored and are clearly of illegal activity.”
Of particular concern, the board said, was a photo posted the night before the sea goddess coronation — after the voting process was completed — that “specifically mentioned the Lobster Festival and coronation along with an inappropriate image.”
“It is an important distinction, this was not a social media background check, rather it was a photo posted by Taylor during the event mentioning the event,” they said. “Along with it were seven other photos indicating a pattern of behavior and public persona being presented.”
Hamlin did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
When it was reported that festival officials felt threatened in the backlash against Hamlin’s dethroning, the 18-year-old wrote on Facebook that she never intended to have “hate” directed at the festival.
“The support from our community is overwhelming and I truly appreciate it,” she said. “But instead of boycotting and bashing the festival think of the inside. Our citizens, our vendors, and children. The business we need for OUR community. There will be good that comes out of this. Which is a lesson for everyone, that social media is a privilege and when you use it the wrong way it can backfire and ruin amazing opportunities for you.”
Festival organizers say they will not release the photographs out of respect for Hamlin, nor will they release audio recordings of the three meetings with the teen and her family where the photographs were discussed. The board members say in those meetings, Hamlin “took responsibility for her actions and ownership of the photos posted on social media.”
“It was indicated that we would not discuss the specific reasons why in order to protect her privacy and dignity,” organizers said. “However, Taylor then opted to post publicly online the reasons along with misinformation about the photographs.”
The board said “sweeping changes” will be made to the competition’s application guidelines, vetting process, communications, and judging as a result of this year’s imbroglio.
“This is a terribly difficult situation with lessons learned on all sides,” the board said. “Actions taken to keep information private were intended to protect Taylor. However, it’s clear that it has polarized the community, which was never our intention and for that we are deeply regretful. Our committee was doing what they thought best at the time.”