State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, who represents West Hartford’s 18th District, was depicted in an obscene meme posted on Facebook by an official with the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.
By Ted Glanzer
A West Hartford state representative was the target of a racist, misogynistic meme posted on social media by an official of a state gun rights group over Labor Day weekend.
The meme, posted by Jonathan Hardy, who is an executive member of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, on Sept. 6, depicts a white woman sitting on a couch with the head of state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, superimposed on the body. Four Black men stand behind the couch gazing at the woman, with the words “BLM,” “COVID-19,” “Democrat Policies,” and “Media Bias” on each man’s shirt. Gov. Ned Lamont stands adjacent to the Black men, holding a long, black fist with an obscene message on socialism photoshopped on it.
The original photo image appears to be of sex workers from an adult film.
The resulting backlash has led some to call for Hardy’s ouster from the CCDL or the removal of the CCDL’s status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with the IRS.
Gilchrest, for her part, said the image, while at first jarring, speaks to the current political climate, drawing a through line to President Donald Trump, as well as highlights deep-rooted sexism in the U.S. She noted young male politicians don’t have similar memes made about them.
“The current political climate has emboldened some men to speak more freely than they may have a few years back,” she said. “The beliefs they’ve had about women have been there all along. But I do push some people’s buttons when I speak out and work on issues that upset them. It triggers in them deep-seated sexism.”
In the past, Gilchrest, a first-term state representative in the Connecticut General Assembly, has proposed a tax on ammunition, with the revenue going to support gun violence prevention programs. She also supported the recent police accountability legislation that passed earlier this summer.
The police accountability legislation led to a Facebook user to post a meme of Gilchrest dressed in kente cloth.
She said she’s also been the target of offensive message on social media and via email.
“Any time I post something like the current COVID stats, that sets them off. If I post something about wearing a mask, that sets them off. They say ‘That’s made up by the Democratic Party.’ And the recent law enforcement reforms, that set them off.
“There is a sadness to it. I wish people would focus on more positive things and filling their time with more constructive ways of engaging in civil discourse.”
She said she’s noticed a significant increase in such behavior since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
“Our current president said he would touch women against their will, and he was elected,” she said. “To me that’s when it all went downhill. It’s emboldened many men to say these things they’ve been thinking all along.”
Hardy removed the image from his personal Facebook page and initially responded by posting that the meme was not meant to be “‘sexual’ in the medical sense.”
“It illustrates more the frustration I have experienced by some politicians (including these TWO in the picture) on a variety of issues,” Hardy wrote.
Further, he wrote that the CCDL didn’t endorse the post, nor was he acting in his capacity as a member of the CCDL when he posted the meme.
“It doesn’t come close to addressing a single issue, such as guns,” he wrote. “In fact, it’s the previously said bias that people are focusing on (that isn’t even part of the meme). … I posted on my personal page at my own volition. It wasn’t meant to be a LITERAL attack on a sexual basis, gender, or race. It was purely on the other issues addressed in said meme.”
A message left with Hardy was not returned.
The president of the CCDL, Holly Sullivan, issued a public statement condemning the meme.
“The Connecticut Citizens Defense League has become aware of an offensive and highly inappropriate meme forwarded by one of our committee members on his personal social media account,” Sullivan wrote. “The meme was not solicited by or associated with CCDL in any way, shape or manner, and we repudiate its content and offensive nature. As a woman, I am personally appalled by the implicit racial and sexual content of the meme directed at Representative Jillian Gilchrest. Our organization is dedicated to protecting the respect and civil rights of all people regardless of sex, race, age, or other human characteristics. CCDL rejects and condemns the post as being in direct conflict with the views and values of our organization. We regret any offense this incident has caused Representative Gilchrest and others, and will work to avoid any future such occurrences.”
Gilchrest acknowledged the statement.
“I appreciate they recognize the severity of the image and the harm it could do,” she said. “But it concerns me that any individual who advocates for unregulated access to guns shares something so sexist and racist that contributes to a culture where there is so much gun violence. That concerns me.”
She also said more needs to be done concerning anti-women animus.
“Maybe, sadly, I’ve gotten used to it, but it just proves my point,” she said. “Sexism is deep-seated and it is incumbent on all of us to call it out. Far too often we don’t go there.”
She said it was vital to talk about racism in the country, but it’s also equally important to talk about “blatant sexism taking place.
“Until we do that, it’s going to continue,” she said.
She added none of the negative rhetoric is going to stop her from running for re-election or to continue fighting for the issues that are important to her constituents and the state.
“It shows I”m doing something right,” she said.
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