Memphis, Tennessee, mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer has apologized for a number of old tweets, which included ones using language that disparaged members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
“We had a teacher that was a closeted lesbian. Decided it was our duty to out her. She quit after a semester. #meangirls #pocprepchat,” Sawyer tweeted in 2014.
In another instance, when a Twitter user said they didn’t know whether to dap up or hug “butch lesbians,” Sawyer replied, “I just wave @ em..from a distance lol.”
Sawyer is a 37-year-old activist who was the public face of the movement to take down Memphis’ Confederate monuments in 2017. Sawyer would be the first woman and third black person ever elected as mayor, if she wins the Oct. 3 election.
She is running as the most progressive candidate in the race, making the revelation of the tweets especially sting.
In several other tweets, Sawyer uses the term “retarded,” writing in 2013, for example, “I love that fool but he is retarded.”
Sawyer addressed the controversy in a Medium post on Saturday, saying that while some of the tweets were dishonestly taken out of context to smear her, others were absolutely offensive and unacceptable. She said she had changed since the time she wrote those tweets, as “a twenty-something living in DC” who was “striving for a career making a difference for others” but was also “preoccupied with myself, my own story, and having fun with friends.”
From her post:
There are tweets that show a woman who, at that point, still hadn’t come to terms with her homophobia, who still wasn’t standing up and being a voice for all, regardless of ability. I am, not just deeply ashamed, but deeply sorry for those tweets, the harm they caused at the time, and the harm that seeing them now will still bring up, especially for members of those communities, and for all of us. ...
It is clear that I have not always been the person that I am today. I have said things on public platforms that are hurtful, offensive, and just wrong. As someone who works every day in the fight for justice, I am sorry I ever thought these things, said these things, and amplified these things. I am embarrassed by my past self and I am grateful to have had the space, the teachers, and the desire to grow beyond that version of me.
To those my words and actions from my past hurt: I am sorry.
As more young people run for office, campaigns are increasingly filled with the issue of candidates’ electronic records ― often from long before they were in politics and aware that what they were saying was public and would stick around.
Earlier this month, Sawyer also apologized for a 2009 tweet mocking a grieving pet owner.
“I want to be clear that I’ve grown significantly in the last 10 years and would not have this response to anything similar ― meme or otherwise ― today. I’m sorry that I shared that view in 2009 and I’m sorry it’s causing hurt today for people,” she wrote in a Sept. 4 Facebook post, noting that she had recently adopted a stray cat.
Sawyer is facing off against 10 other candidates. The incumbent, Mayor Jim Strickland, and Willie Herenton ― who was the city’s first elected black mayor, from 1991 to 2009 ― are considered the two front-runners.
Sawyer has said she’s running a grassroots campaign, trying to give a voice to parts of Memphis’ population that have traditionally been left out of politics.
Memphis magazine recently ran a controversial and much-derided cover featuring caricatures of the mayoral candidates. Sawyer’s caricature, in particular, hit a nerve, with the Memphis NAACP saying it harked back to “the years of intentional buffoonery and ‘darky iconography’ that long plagued people of color in American advertising.”
The magazine pulled its September issue and apologized for the illustration.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of candidates running against Sawyer. There are 10, not three.