‘Skinhead lesbian’ tweet about Parkland student ends Maine Republican’s candidacy

Leslie Gibson called one Florida student, Emma González, a “skinhead lesbian,” and another, David Hogg, a “moron” and a “baldfaced liar.”

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 17, 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez speaks at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 
In the wake of the Florida school shooting, survivors like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez have become faces of the fight for US gun control -- and targets for far-right pundits and conspiracy theorists who paint the students as puppets of the political left. / AFP PHOTO / RHONA WISERHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez speaks at a rally for gun control, Feb. 17, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. –Rhona Wise / AFP / Getty Images

A Republican candidate for the Maine state House who disparaged two teenage survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, dropped out of the race after drawing heavy criticism and challengers from both political parties.

The candidate, Leslie Gibson, had been running to represent District 57 in central Maine unopposed, according to The Sun Journal, which first reported the comments he made on Twitter. Gibson called one Florida student, Emma González, a “skinhead lesbian,” and another, David Hogg, a “moron” and a “baldfaced liar.”

Some state lawmakers, including at least two Republicans, were quick to condemn Gibson after his comments surfaced. Hogg issued a call on Twitter for someone to run against Gibson.

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By Thursday, two challengers who had been dismayed by the remarks were scrambling to complete the paperwork needed to run for the seat before the filing deadline that night.

By Friday, at least one Democrat, Eryn Gilchrist, and one Republican, Thomas H. Martin Jr., had entered the race and Gibson had withdrawn.

Gibson could not be reached Saturday and appeared to have deleted the personal Twitter account on which he made the remarks. But screenshots confirmed that a person with a Twitter handle bearing his name posted the disparaging tweets. Other screenshots of tweets from a locked account that appear to have been for Gibson’s campaign contained an apology.

In the apologetic tweets, which were quoted by The Press Herald, Gibson acknowledged that his responses were “harsh and uncivil” and said it was “inappropriate to single out” the students.

Martin, who served as a state senator in another district in 2011 and 2012 before losing a re-election bid, said he had considered running for office again but had not planned to do it so soon because he and his wife had just moved to the area and had adopted a baby boy.

Still, he said that after Gibson’s comments, he got calls from friends urging him to run and decided that he “couldn’t sit idle and let our state be reflected so negatively.”

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The comments “gave the state a black eye,” Martin said.

“They weren’t the true feelings of the state or the Republican Party — or any party — I have to believe,” he said, adding that he planned to contact the Parkland students and commend their courage.

A spokesman for the Maine Republican Party did not return an email requesting comment Saturday.

In a statement from the Maine Democratic Party, Gilchrist said she had not considered running for office before she read Gibson’s comments. After she did, she said, she thought constituents in the district “deserved a representative who will respect people and try to work through their differences to make our lives better.”

Student David Hogg, center, walks toward Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. He was called a “liar” by a candidate for state office in Maine. —Saul Martinez / The New York Times

In the wake of the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 people, González, 18, and Hogg, 17, emerged as two of the most forceful student activists agitating for gun control.

Hogg’s early remark that “we’re children” while politicians “are the adults” won him praise. González’s speech soon after made the phrase “We call B.S.” a rallying cry among young people. Since then, the Parkland students’ ability to leverage social media to command the narrative and keep gun control in the news has been widely recognized.

González did not return a phone message Saturday night and did not appear to have responded to Gibson on Twitter directly. She did share a tweet from one of her fellow students who said Gibson’s decision to drop out of the race was “what he deserves.”

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Hogg said his mother had seen a story about what Gibson had called González and he had quickly sent the tweet asking someone to challenge Gibson.

“If you’re the type of person who calls children who are a witness to murder a skinhead lesbian and baldfaced liar, that kind of speaks for itself,” he said Saturday. “It’s disgusting, but honestly, I’m a super petty person, and we all cheered when he said that he dropped out.

“We need good people in office — people who are actually human and have an ounce of empathy,” he continued. “It’s hilarious because its ridiculous. They’re only proving our point that there are so many bad politicians out there. We almost let somebody that would say something like that win and run unopposed.”