Sens. Vitelli, Daughtry release statements in response to a lawmaker’s use of an offensive and inappropriate Zoom background

Posted: March 25, 2021 | Senator Daughtry, Senator Vitelli

AUGUSTA — During a virtual meeting of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee on Wednesday, March 24, Rep. Bruce Bickford’s Zoom background briefly depicted a sign that read “Harvey Weinstein Charm School Rehab Center.” Rep. Bickford later claimed that the background was meant as a joke for “private settings.” 

In response to the incident on Wednesday and subsequent discussions, Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick released the following statements:

Sen. Vitelli:

“It is extremely concerning to me that despite our policies and the hard work that’s gone into developing harassment prevention training for lawmakers, that an elected member of the Legislature clearly does not understand and appreciate the message his background sends to fellow legislators, the staff who support our work, and the members of the public. His claim that it was meant as a joke for private company does nothing to lessen its impact. That this incident occurred during Women’s History Month and on Equal Pay Day only makes it that much more painful. 

“For the one in five Mainers who will experience sexual assault at some point in their lifetime, and for those who love them and help them find healing, I want to state clearly that I condemn the message and the inadequate response by the Representative from Auburn. The Zoom background was not funny — whether in a private setting or public meeting — and was not and is not acceptable. Staff, fellow lawmakers and members of the public need to feel safe and respected when interacting with legislators, whether it’s in person at the State House, in a member’s district, or virtually. There is no place for this sort of conduct in the Maine Legislature, period.”

Sen. Daughtry:

“Joking about sexual violence and rape has no place in any space, let alone state government. As elected leaders, we must make sure there are consequences for what happened in the Legislature’s Taxation Committee yesterday and ensure that it never happens again. Maine people, especially survivors of sexual violence, deserve better.

“Every person who walks through the State House doors, whether they are an elected official, a member of the public or a legislative staffer, deserves to feel safe and supported in this building. When we have elected officials making jokes or microaggressions about violence against women and sexual violence, it sends a signal that people aren’t welcome or respected here. Not only that but it creates a hostile work environment for smart, talented and kind women working in the State House and serving the state.

“As a member of leadership and a woman who was first elected to office at the age of 25, I feel compelled to speak up so that all Maine people, especially young women and survivors of violence, know that we won’t tolerate this behavior in the Maine Legislature. Your voices and your safety matter.”