By ALI ROCKETT
A Richmond sheriff’s deputy has apologized to a transgender Virginia Commonwealth University student for sending an unsolicited message over social media after last week’s protests of the election of Donald Trump as president.
Deputy Michael Whitt said he regrets what he called an “offensive message” to Bailey Biggs, a junior at VCU, after Biggs was quoted in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article about the protests. In a video taken at the protest, Biggs identifies as transgender.
“Get the fu#$ over yourself!!!” Whitt wrote to Biggs. “Life goes on and it is what it is!!! Get a life!!!”
“I laughed,” Biggs said initially after receiving the message Thursday night. “I’ve dealt with internet trolls all my life.”
But then Biggs sent the message to friends who were more alarmed by the message. Their reactions made him rethink the situation. Biggs called it “stalker-y and creepy” that a man who he had never met read his name in the paper, remembered it and sought him out on social media. To top it all off, Whitt is a law enforcement officer sworn to protect rights like free speech and freedom of expression.
“That’s when things got more serious for me,” Biggs said. “That’s when I stopped laughing.”
Biggs did not respond to Whitt’s message. But a friend of Biggs shared Whitt’s message on Twitter, and it began to spread.
Whitt, who has since deleted both his Facebook and Twitter accounts, reached out to Biggs and apologized. He denied knowing that Biggs identified himself as transgender in the video, saying he did not listen to the audio and only watched the video.
“I know nothing about anyone being transgender and I shouldn’t have even sent the message about the protest,” Whitt wrote on Twitter. “My comment was about the election only and I apologize for that.”
Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. criticized Whitt’s actions and said that he would undergo sensitivity training. He issued the following statement:
“This election cycle has been extremely anxious and contentious for many, with members of the public holding passionate positions on what they believe to be right and wrong. No matter their opinions on any issue, they are entitled to those positions and we must have mutual respect for each other. Deputy Michael Whitt sent an unsolicited message which he now regrets, as his action flies in the face of respecting an individual’s position on a subject. Mr. Whitt has learned a tremendous lesson regarding today’s social media world that no matter what you send in a message, or who you send that message to, it may become public and sometimes, rightfully so. In addition, he has learned the need to be respectful of others’ opinions, especially in light of the profession he represents.”
Woody’s statement continued, “I certainly respect my employees’ right to speech and to have their own individual positions on a wide array of topics. However, Mr. Whitt has also learned that as an employee in a law enforcement agency, his personal comments and actions may be attributed to his agency, his employer, and his colleagues as a whole. In our current environment, I expect the highest standards from my employees regardless of what rank they may hold. Mr. Whitt did not meet those expectations and has since apologized for making such a statement. We will address this matter via re-training through our Human Resources Division to ensure Mr. Whitt understands that while entitled to his own opinion, he cannot make others feel less entitled to theirs.”
Whitt made the following statement: “I made a mistake this past weekend and sent an offensive message, in my personal capacity, to an individual with whom I share no friendship. I regret having made such a comment in a manner and fashion which offended the recipient. I understand that individuals should be entitled to their positions and feelings without other members of the public making crass comments accordingly.”
Biggs said he appreciates that Whitt, Woody and social media users took the matter so seriously.