Rename Stellwagen Bank

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There’s no better way to commute than by MBTA ferry from Hingham to Boston’s Rowes Wharf. It’s a relaxing trip that takes about 40 minutes. The boats are study and comfortable. Many of them are also used for whale watch voyages out on Stellwagen Bank, a marine-life-rich underwater plateau that extends 19 miles from just north of Provincetown to a point east of Cape Ann.

The official name, since 1996, is the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. On the boat you’ll see posters and ads to visit this national treasure. It’s an important environmental resource.

But as the father of three young boys, it has become clear to me that we ought to rename the marine sanctuary.

It was reported just a few weeks ago that there is a new lawsuit against the prep school St. Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire, in which former students accuse Gerry Studds, then a faculty member of the school, of sexual assault. They also accuse the school of not doing enough to stop it. The school has already apologized for the suffering of these students and many others. St. Paul’s put out a report in 2017 outlining substantiated cases of abuse of students by several of its faculty members between 1948 and 1988. 

In the latest lawsuit one former student says that Studds during the 1960s invited him over to dinner and then, when driving him home, pulled onto a farm field and molested him.

News outlets also report that there is another student considering legal action who also claims that Studds engaged in sexual misconduct with him when the student was a minor.

The charges are distressing but hardly shocking.

Back in 1983, then-U.S. Representative Studds was a prime figure in the Congressional page scandal. A U.S. House of Representatives report revealed that Studds in 1973 invited a 16- or 17-year-old congressional page to his home, got him drunk on vodka, and then engaged in sex acts with him. He later invited the page on a trip to Portugal, and engaged in sex acts with him there.

Studds admitted the essential facts, including that he had made sexual advances to two other male pages who were about 17 years old at the time. He claimed his sexual relationship with the male page was “consensual.” (Looking back, it’s difficult to figure how anyone could have thought getting a high school student drunk and then engaging in sex with him qualifies as “consensual.”) The House had to act, and it did by censuring Studds.

Rightly or wrongly, a city of Boston board recently renamed Yawkey Way after enough people were persuaded that Tom Yawkey was a racist. That, though, is a matter of dispute. It isn’t a matter of dispute that Gerry Studds got a teen-ager drunk and engaged in sex with him. He admitted it.

Yes, Gerry Studds is a historic figure as the first openly homosexual congressman, and yes, he did important work championing AIDS research. I don’t care.  Bill Cosby made a great TV show, and Harvey Weinstein produced some amazing movies; it doesn’t matter. All three of them are sexual predators who abused their power to commit outrages against people who didn’t have the ability to fight back.

Studds, who died in 2006 at age 69, left behind victims who have been hurt for decades by his abuse.  As a teacher and then as a congressman, he betrayed the trust he was given, multiple times.

The current renaming fad has sometimes gone too far. Recently, for example, a Brockton state representative said she favors changing the name of the General Hooker entrance to the Massachusetts State House not because Fighting Joe did anything wrong but because some boys might make fun of some girls while standing in line to get into the State House during a field trip.

Even in less absurd cases, I think we should be careful about judging people from another era by the cultural standards we have today.

But Studds’s actions were considered outrageous at the time – rightly so – and are still outrageous under today’s standards. His victims are still alive, and some of them are still suffering from what he did to them. It’s bad enough that Congress sought fit to honor him in a conspicuous way 22 years ago. Congress should fix the error.

It’s time to honor Gerry Studds’s victims and remove his name from Stellwagen Bank. 


Andrew Goodrich is a resident of Scituate, Massachusetts and is Executive Director of the Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee.