After Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz made a speech arguing women who are worried about dwindling abortion access are too unattractive to become pregnant, a teen activist responded on Twitter. Gaetz then singled out the activist by re-posting her photo on his Twitter feed. Now she's using the attention to raise money for a cause dear to her heart — abortion funds.
Olivia Julianna, 19, heard the comments Rep. Matt Gaetz made over the weekend to a crowd of college students at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida.
"Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions?" Gaetz said. "Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb. These people are odious from the inside out. They’re like 5′ 2″, 350 pounds.’"
Gaetz was taking about abortion-rights activists in general, prompting an outraged response. Julianna responded in a tweet to her more than 156,000 followers.
“I was not surprised at the level of just outright misogyny and fatphobia that was being perpetuated,” Julianna told TODAY Parents. “So I tweeted a statement out being, like, a little sassy.”
“Its come to my attention that Matt Gaetz — alleged pedophile — has said that it’s always the ‘odious... 5’2 350 pound’ women that ‘nobody wants to impregnate’ who rally for abortion,” the tweet read. “I’m actually 5’11. 6’4 in heels. I wear them so the small men like you are reminded of your place.”
Gaetz is being federally investigated for sex trafficking, including trafficking underage girls. Gaetz has denied the allegations, and has not been charged with any crime.
Several hours later, Gaetz lifted Julianna’s Twitter profile picture and shared it with his 1.6 million followers, along with the caption “Dander raised,” referring to a phrase that means “to cause someone to become angry.”
“He just decided to go straight into body-shaming me,” said Julianna, who lives in Houston, Texas. “So from there, I just started defending myself and thinking about how I can turn this situation into something positive that also could potentially do something good for the community.”
TODAY Parents reached out Gaetz’s office for comment. The communication director for Gaetz, Joel Valdez, said, “Congressman Gaetz’s speech speaks for itself." Valdez shared a tweet, adding, "He provided further comment here.”
In the tweet Valdez shared, an off-camera person Valdez identified as a reporter asks Gaetz if it was “safe to say that, based off your comments, you’re suggesting that these women at these abortion rallies are ugly and overweight?”
“Yes,” Gaetz responded. When asked what he would say to people “who think those comments are offensive,” Gaetz replied: “Be offended.”
Julianna says that she was inundated with support after Gaetz tweeted her photograph, though she says she has also received some alarming hate messages as a direct result of Gaetz's tweet and comments.
Julianna says comments across social media "talking about the way I look and talking about my body" are common, because "people out there like Matt Gaetz do exist — who think that perpetuating these horribly misogynistic ideas regularly is OK."
The additional attention to Julianna's social media pages also presented her with an opportunity, she says, to raise money.
"I wanted to highlight the positive work that I'm doing from this very negative sphere that I've been placed in," she added. She tweeted out a link to the Gen Z For Change Abortion Fund, which distributes money to 50 different abortion funds across the country.
Since she first tweeted on Monday night, people have donated $168,000 from more than 22,000 individual donors, Julianna said. The donations raised have not been independently verified by TODAY.
As she continues to be politically involved, the 19-year-old says she knows her body and her identity will be used as political fodder and has a message for anyone who feels inclined to follow Gaetz's lead.
"Don't mess with Texas women and don't underestimate Gen Z," she said. "I think a lot of times they think because I'm a young activist, I'm just going to be doe-eyed and I'm going to sit there and take their hatred and bigotry. I'm not. This is not business as usual."