After Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz gave a speech in which he argued that women worried about dwindling access to abortion are too unattractive to conceive, a teen activist responded on Twitter. Gaetz then singled out the activist by reposting her photo to his Twitter feed. Now she’s using the attention to raise money for a cause close to her heart – abortion funds.
Olivia Julianna, 19, overheard Rep. Matt Gaetz’s comments in front of a crowd of college students at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Fla. over the weekend.
“Why are the women least likely to get pregnant the ones who fear abortion the most?” Gaetz said. “Nobody wants to get you pregnant if you look like a thumb. These people are hideous from the inside out. They’re like 5′ 2″, 350 pounds.”
Gaetz was concerned with abortion rights activists in general, prompting an outraged response. Julianna responded in a tweet to her more than 156,000 followers.
“I wasn’t surprised at the level of overt misogyny and fat phobia that was sustained,” Julianna told TODAY Parents. “So I tweeted a statement that turned out to be a bit cheeky.”
“It struck me that Matt Gaetz – alleged pedophile – has said it’s always the ‘disgusting … 5’2 350 pound’ women who ‘nobody wants to get pregnant’ who are rallying for an abortion,” it read in the tweet. “I’m actually 5’11. 6’4 in heels. I wear them to remind little men like you of your place.”
Gaetz is under federal investigation for sex trafficking, including trafficking in underage girls. Gaetz has denied the allegations and has not been charged with any crime.
A few hours later, Gaetz took up Julianna’s Twitter profile picture and shared it with his 1.6million followers, along with the caption “Dander Raised,” which refers to a phrase meaning “to make someone angry.”
“He just decided to shame me directly,” said Julianna, who lives in Houston, Texas. “From there I just started defending myself and thinking about how I could turn this situation into something positive that could potentially do some good for the community as well.”
TODAY’s parents have reached out to Gaetz’s office for comment. Gaetz communications director Joel Valdez said, “Congressman Gaetz’s speech speaks for itself.” Valdez shared a tweet, adding, “He has made other comments here.”
In the tweet Valdez shared, a person off-camera who identified Valdez as a reporter asked Gaetz if it was “safe to say that based on your comments you are implying that these women at these abortion rallies are ugly and overweight?”
“Yes,” Gaetz replied. When asked what he would say to people “who find these comments offensive,” Gaetz replied, “Be offended.”
Julianna says she was inundated with support after Gaetz tweeted her photo, although she says she also received some alarming hate messages as a direct result of Gaetz’s tweet and comments.
Julianna says comments on social media “talking about my looks and my body” are common because “there are people out there like Matt Gaetz — who think it’s okay to continue with these horribly misogynist ideas on a regular basis.”
The extra exposure to Julianna’s social media pages also provided her with an opportunity to raise funds, she says.
Related: What is an abortion fund? How people get access to medical care despite legal restrictions
“I wanted to highlight the positive work I’m doing in this very negative realm that I’ve been placed in,” she added. She tweeted a link to the Gen Z For Change Abortion Fund, which distributes money to 50 different abortion funds across the country.
People have donated $168,000 from more than 22,000 individual donors since she first tweeted Monday night, Julianna said. The donations collected have not been independently verified by TODAY.
As she remains politically active, the 19-year-old says she knows her body and identity are being used as political fodder and has a message for anyone 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 have doe eyes and sit there and take their hatred and bigotry. That’s not me. It’s not like usual.”