FLAGLER, Fl – Following a series of incidents in which they had clashed with anti-LGBTQ+ and extremist right-wing members of the school board in east central Florida’s Flagler County, rising high school senior Cameron Driggers and his friends decided to organize for change.
Driggers told The Los Angeles Blade that his group, Recall Flagler County School Board (Recall FCSB), having targeted thousands of voters and launched two digital ads, is now partnering with the Florida Democratic Party on “a massive door-knocking campaign” to begin August 6.
Their goal? To oust and replace two far-right members, including Jill Woolbright, who is backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and made headlines last year for calling the police on a school librarian for the supposed crime of offering books with LGBTQ+ themes.
Earlier this week, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz accused Gov. DeSantis, who looms large over education policy in the state, of turning school board elections into “new political battlegrounds” and “playing politics with our children.”
Over the past few years, the governor has shepherded through multiple policies and laws forbidding discussion of systemic racism, sexual orientation, and gender equality in Florida schools.
Driggers said the five members of the Flagler County School Board are comprised of “two lunatics” (Woolbright and Janet McDonald), “two members who are pro-student,” and one who is “in the middle.”
Should any of them fail to earn 80% of the vote during the August 23 primary election, they will face off against challengers in runoff elections held in November. Early voting begins August 13, and the races in three districts – 1, 2, and 4 – are nonpartisan, meaning all registered voters may participate.
“Our prerogative is to replace [the extremist members] with champions,” Driggers said, by “galvanizing young people” and getting students involved, knocking on doors to change hearts and minds.
Challenging Woolbright in the race for the District 1 seat is Sally Hunt, an experienced educator and businessperson who is endorsed by Recall FCSB. The group is also supporting Courtney VandeBunte, an experienced teacher in her race for the open seat in District 2, where she will face off against two men who Driggers said are “very conservative,” one of whom is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Driggers said he and his Gen Z friends, including Jack Petocz – whose activism over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law also made headlines this year – are “picking up the torch, showing up to say, ‘we have space in the world and the right to make our voices heard.’”
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Broward high school students stage walkout over Trans exclusion
Monarch High principal James Cecil, a 25 year veteran of the Broward schools district, had been reassigned off-campus
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. – Students at Monarch High School in northern Broward County walked out of classes Tuesday protesting in support of the trans community and school staff who were reassigned amid an investigation involving a transgender female student allowed to play on a girls’ sports team.
In a statement, officials with Broward County Public Schools said that Monarch High principal James Cecil, a 25 year veteran of the Broward district, had been reassigned off-campus while an investigation into allegations of improper student participation in sports, specifically allowing a trans student to participate on the girls’ volleyball team.
Local NBC News affiliate WPTV 6 reported that in addition to Cecil, several other staff were reassigned as school district officials investigate the allegations that the Florida state law signed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis two years ago, banning Trans youth athletes from participating in sports was violated.
Local journalist Kevin Deutsch reported that in an email and robocall Monday morning, Monarch High School parents and staff were informed that Cecil and three others “have been notified that they are part of the BCPS Special Investigative Unit’s investigation and have been reassigned to non-school sites pending the outcome,” according to a district spokesperson.
The other staff members are Assistant Principal Kenneth May, Teacher/Athletic Director Dione Hester, and Information Management Technician Jessica Norton, according to BCPS.
Additionally, Alex Burgess, a temporary athletic coach at the school, “has been advised his services are paused while the investigation is ongoing,” the spokesperson said.
Students perform MASSIVE WALKOUT at Monarch High School after staff reassigned:
Far-right blog says Satan’s overseeing Target’s holiday offerings
“When shoppers enter the seasonal aisles, they are greeted by pride flag waving Santa’s and transgender-themed nutcrackers”
LAKE MARY, Fla. – A staff writer for Florida-based far-right anti-LGBTQ+ Charisma Media’s blog Charisma News, alleges that Satan aka The Devil, Lucifer, or the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Baphomet, Lord of the Flies, the Antichrist, Old Scratch, Father of Lies and Moloch is in charge of Minneapolis-based Target Corporation’s Christmas offerings.
According to James Lasher, Satan and Target teamed up to offer shoppers LGBTQ+ themed Christmas decorations. One in particular, an LGBTQ+ affirming nutcracker drew scrutiny. Lasher writes: “The year is not over yet, and the retail giant thought it would be a good idea to ring in the Christmas season with another ‘Pride’ campaign where they deck the halls in transgender flag colors.” He then goes on to note:
“When shoppers enter the seasonal aisles, they are greeted by pride flag waving Santa’s and transgender-themed nutcrackers who come in white and black and feature purple bears and a pride flag, the higher tier model costing $63.00 and comes with a staff with a heart on it saying “Love is Love.””
Lasher summarizes the Target Christmas holiday shopping experience as: “The goal of Satan is to move our ever-increasingly secular society away from any references of Jesus Christ. And he has succeeded mightily in accomplishing that goal in America. This entire charade of dedicating the month of June to pride is merely cover for the real goal of saturating American culture in this pagan ideology 24/7, and what more proof do you need than the attempt at making Christmas ‘Pride’ now?”
The Christian extremist writer then cites biblical references as to why Target is marketing-in-sin and then writes: “The Christian church is battling this takeover itself, with apostate congregations taking down crosses and replacing them with pride flags. No longer do they pray to Jesus and read the Bible, but instead they pray to drag queens and read the works of radical activists.”
In May of this year, outrage over LGBTQ+ Pride related merchandise being sold, especially in the company’s southern regional stores, by far-right activists caused Target Corporation to confirm that in some of its locations in semi-rural areas of rural Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas have moved Pride merchandise from the front of the stores to backroom areas or deeper into the stores after confrontations and backlash from shoppers.
Target’s Pride Collection, which was displayed for sale starting on May 1, is comprised of more than 2,000 products, including clothing, books, music and home furnishings. Items include “gender fluid” mugs, “queer all year” calendars and books for children aged 2-8 titled “Bye Bye, Binary,” “Pride 1,2,3” and “I’m not a girl.”
Speaking for the Minneapolis-based retail giant, spokesperson Kayla Castaneda noted: “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”
Castaneda related that the company has been celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month for over ten years, but this year the increased opposition and hostility gave the company pause and led to a decision to pull some of the Pride merchandise.
In an email to the Blade in June, Castaneda said, “Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride month and throughout the year.”
Newly introduced Florida bill could destroy LGBTQ+ nonprofits
The legislation would establish “biological” pronouns as official state policy applying to government employees and contractors
By Erin Reed | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new bill just introduced in Florida aims to expand “Don’t Say Gay Or Trans” provisions to a broad range of workplaces. Targeting government employees, contractors, and nonprofits, the bill sets forth restrictions and bans on policies relating to pronouns, gender identity, and sexuality.
Specifically, it would prohibit state and local government employees as well as any contractors engaged with the government from changing their pronouns or honorifics if they do not match their assigned sex at birth. It would also bar them from instructing on gender identity or sexuality, similar to “Don’t Say Gay Or Trans” laws already active in the state education system. The legislation would establish “biological” pronouns as official state policy.
The bill also would establish protections for what it calls “deeply held biology-based beliefs.” It may even prevent all nonprofits in the state from mandating any “training, instruction, or other activity on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” a clause that could destroy LGBTQ+ nonprofits across Florida.
The bill, HB599, was introduced by Representative Ryan Chamberlin, a Republican. The bill is split into two sections, with the first section applying to government employees and contractors, which it defines as “an individual, partnership, corporation, or business entity” that “enters or attempts to enter into a contract for services” with any state, county, municipality, or special district of Florida.
These definitions encompass a huge number of businesses, such as stadiums, convention centers, major hospitals, insurance agencies, and more. For these businesses, as well as for all government workers, the bill would declare that it is the state’s policy that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.” It then would bar covered employees from sharing pronouns that “do not correspond to that person’s sex,” effectively banning social transition at work for these employees.
See the provisions barring pronouns, honorifics, and more here:
The bill also would enshrine a new phrase into law: protections for employees “deeply held religious or biology-based beliefs.” The phrase “deeply held religious beliefs” has longstanding precedent in constitutional law and is used to overturn laws judged to be violating someone’s freedom of religion.
Deeply held “biology-based” beliefs, however, are not something that has ever been a part of any law. It would appear that this line is meant to provide religious-based protections to people who assert that their misgendering of transgender people and using transgender people’s old names is part of their “biology-based” rights.
The bill is not limited in its application to government employees and contractors, however. A separate section of the bill would apply to “nonprofit organizations or an employer who receives funding from the state.” In the most broad reading of this section, separating “nonprofit organizations” from “employers who receive funding from the state,” it would bar all such organizations from mandating “training, instruction, or other activity on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
This provision is severe in its potential impact. Virtually every LGBTQ+ organization would be radically affected by it and would likely have to shut down. It would be nearly impossible for an LGBTQ+ organization to run without providing instruction, training, and “other activity” around gender identity or sexuality. It would be a blatant power grab by the state targeting organizations critical to the government and would further drive LGBTQ+ activism and organizing underground in the state. If enforced broadly, this section could have a similar impact to laws in Russia designed to shut down LGBTQ+ organizations there.
This section would have impacts far beyond LGBTQ+ organizations as well. The provisions would apply to “any organization that is exempt from taxation” including “s. 501” organizations. This would include, for instance, 501c4s, which are crucial during election cycles and could be used to target left-leaning organizations running election ads. Many of these organizations have LGBTQ+ employees and provide instruction and accommodations for their employees, which would be barred by the state if this gets passed into law.
It could also have impacts on medical organizations that do business with state and local governments. Planned Parenthood, a 501c3, heavily provides care for LGBTQ+ people, and such a law could be used to target the organization statewide. Likewise, many state hospital systems that do business with the government often must educate employees and patients on HIV and AIDs, which is impossible to divorce from LGBTQ+ issues. Community health clinics would, similarly, have to contend with these provisions.
Brandon J. Wolf, the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign said to the Blade in a statement Tuesday: “This Florida bill is a hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ monstrosity. It is dangerous, unconstitutional, and we know it’s just the start of politicians’ attacks on our community this legislative session. We’re prepared to fight back.”
This legislation represents an early move in what promises to be a challenging year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2024. Historically, Florida has often been the breeding ground for new laws aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. This bill might well serve as a precursor to the next “model policy” that could be replicated in multiple states, and bears close watching.
Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.
Follow her on Twitter (Link)
Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/
Global pop icon P!nk set to distribute banned books in Florida
Black and LGBTQ+ authors and books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities have been disproportionately affected in the book bans
NEW YORK – Florida bookseller Books & Books and global pop icon P!nk announced on Monday that in partnership with literature and human rights group PEN America during the pop star’s Florida concert show schedule she is set to give away 2,000 banned books.
As a mother of two who is deeply invested in education and in representation for all races and sexual identities, P!nk wanted to give away banned books to highlight the spike in book bans in Florida and across the country as documented by PEN America.
“Books have held a special joy for me from the time I was a child, and that’s why I am unwilling to stand by and watch while books are banned by schools,” P!nk said in a statement. “It’s especially hateful to see authorities take aim at books about race and racism and against LGBTQ authors and those of color. We have made so many strides toward equality in this country and no one should want to see this progress reversed. This is why I am supporting PEN America in its work and why I agree with them: no more banned books.”
At the Miami and Sunrise, Florida, concert stops on November 14-15 as part of her 2023 Trustfall Tour, P!nk will give away four books that have appeared in PEN America’s Index of Banned Books: “The Family Book,” by Todd Parr, “The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gorman, “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison, and a book from “Girls Who Code,” founded by Reshma Saujani.
The singer announced the collaboration in an Instagram live with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and New York Times #1 bestselling author Amanda Gorman. Fans can go to pen.org/pink to find out more about how they can fight book bans.
“We are thrilled to be working with P!nk on this important cause,” said Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read Program. “Every child deserves access to literature that reflects their lives. Rampant censorship is depriving kids of the chance to see themselves in books and learn about the world and its history.”
Following a new wave of censorious legislation and policies, Florida overtook Texas during the last school year with more books banned in public school classrooms and libraries than any other state in the union, according to PEN America’s newly released data. Amid a 33% spike in book bans nationally, Florida now ranks first in the nation and accounts for more than 40% of all documented bans.
While Florida is in the lead, its speech-constricting laws and policies have become a national template, helping to fuel a movement that has led to nearly 6,000 instances of book bans by PEN America’s count since 2021. Black and LGBTQ+ authors and books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities have been disproportionately affected in the book bans documented by PEN America.
Moms for Liberty members call deputies on Florida librarians
In addition to the librarian at Jay High School, Moms for Liberty points the finger at Ruth Witter, the head librarian for the county
By Judd Legum | MILTON, Fla. – Two members of Moms for Liberty, a right-wing activist group, have reported several Florida school librarians to law enforcement. They claimed they had evidence that librarians were distributing “pornography” to minors and requested that law enforcement officers be dispatched.
This represents a serious escalation of the tactics deployed by members of Moms for Liberty against school librarians.
On October 25, Jennifer Tapley, a member of the Santa Rosa County chapter of Moms for Liberty and a candidate for school board, contacted the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office. “I’ve got some evidence a crime was committed,” Tapley said in an audio recording of the call obtained by Popular Information through a public records request. “Pornography given to a minor in a school. And I would like to make a report with somebody and turn over the evidence.” Tapley made the call from the lobby of the main office of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office in Milton, Florida.
She told the dispatcher that she did not want to provide her name because she was “afraid of people getting mad at me for doing this.” Tapley said that she would tell the Deputy Sheriff her name, but she didn’t want “any public records with her name on it because then people could look it up.”
In an interview with Popular Information, Tapley said she was “scrolling through Facebook” this summer and saw “a video of a mom reading a book” that was “really disgusting.” She later learned that there was a Moms for Liberty chapter in her area addressing the issue and joined the group. As a member of the group, she learned that local schools had “some really shocking pornographic books in our libraries.”
Tapley was accompanied at the Sheriff’s Office by Tom Gurski, who is also active in the local Moms for Liberty chapter. Soon, Deputy Sheriff Tyler Mabire and another officer arrived and interviewed the pair.
“The only reason we are here: A crime is being committed. It’s a 3rd-degree felony. And we’ve got the evidence,” Gurski said in a body cam video of the interview obtained by Popular Information. “The governor says this is child pornography. It’s a serious crime,” Tapley added. “It’s just as serious as if I handed a playboy to [my child] right now, right here, in front of you. It’s just as serious, according to the law.” The video has been edited to protect the identity of a minor:
1. Two members of @Moms4Liberty have reported several Florida librarians to law enforcement, claiming the librarians committed felonies by distributing pornography to minors.— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 6, 2023
Popular Information obtained the video from the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office.
The “pornography” at issue is actually a popular young adult novel, Storm and Fury, by Jennifer L. Armentrout. The book, which is 512 pages, is mostly about humans and gargoyles fighting demons. The main character of the novel, Trinity, is 18 years old. There are some passages with sexual themes, including a few makeout sessions, and one where the main character almost has sex. In the 2020-21 academic year, the Florida Association of Media in Education (FAME), a professional association of Florida librarians, recommended Storm and Fury on its “Teen Reads” list. FAME says books on the list “engage” teens and “provide a spur to critical thinking.” Barnes and Noble recommends the book for readers 14 to 18. It was also recommended for students by the School Library Journal.
Armentrout told Popular Information that it was surprising to learn we are “living in an era where, apparently, some adults find it appropriate to contact the police over a fictional book involving gargoyles.” She said Storm and Fury “is very close to my heart, as the main character has the same degenerative eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, as I do.” Armentrout said she wrote the book “to educate people on a little-known disease in a fun, suspenseful, and adventurous way.” The purpose of the book, Armentrout said, was not to “incite sexual excitement.”
Tapley told Popular Information that any book that has a “sex scene” is pornography and not “appropriate for minors.” She did acknowledge that there may be exceptions for “extreme classics.” But the books Moms for Liberty is targeting, Tapley says, are “without significant literary value.”
Florida law, however, only bans distributing a book or other material with sexual content if it is “harmful to minors,” a standard established by Supreme Court precedent. Under Florida law, a book is only “harmful to minors” if it “[p]redominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest” and is “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors.” Storm and Fury, a book that is predominantly about fighting demons, is routinely recommended by adults for high school students.
Gurski told the officer that Storm and Fury was checked out from Jay High School “by a 17-year-old, which is important because she is a minor.” Tapley showed the officers the book, with the offending passages marked with orange sticky notes.
4. Tapley told Popular Information that any book that has a "sex scene" is pornography and not "appropriate for minors." She did acknowledge that there may be exceptions for "extreme classics."https://t.co/mDQWzHXNpT— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 6, 2023
In Santa Rosa County schools, once a book is challenged for sexual content, the policy is to take it out of circulation within five days, pending a review. Tapley alleged, “we have already turned in this book,” but the Jay High School librarian did not remove it. That allegation appears to be incorrect. Storm and Fury does not appear on lists of challenged books in Santa Rosa County maintained by the school district and Tapley.
In addition to the librarian at Jay High School, Tapley points the finger at Ruth Witter, the head librarian for the county. Tapley presents the officers with a printout of Witter’s Facebook page and claims it is proof that “she [has been a] member of Santa Rosa County Stop Moms for Liberty since May.” She explains that “Moms for Liberty is trying to… get rid of these books” and “fights for parents’ rights.” Meanwhile, Tapley alleges, Stop Moms for Liberty “are the people who are against Moms for Liberty.”
6. One of the @Moms4Liberty members, Tom Gurski, told the officer that Storm and Fury was checked out from Jay High School "by a 17-year-old, which is important because she is a minor."— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 6, 2023
Tapley showed the officers the book, w/offending passages marked with orange sticky notes. pic.twitter.com/ouHQyP8eoT
Tapley claims that, by following the Santa Rosa County Stop Moms for Liberty group, Witter is “fighting us actively.” She also connects this to alleged “death threats” against Moms for Liberty members, without elaborating. Tapley does not mention that Witter also follows several conservative pages on Facebook, including Fox Nation and a Republican candidate for local office.
The librarian at Milton High School is also singled out by Tapley for posting in a Facebook group called Emerald Coast SWEEP, a local chapter of the group Red, Wine, and Blue. Tapley describes Red, Wine, and Blue as “a very liberal activist group of people fighting for abortion rights” that opposes the removal of books from public school libraries. Tapley says the Milton librarian is seeking “liberals” to join the school’s book review committee, which Tapley claims is “illegal.”
Asked if she would like to see librarians criminally charged, Tapley told Popular Information that it “depends on if there’s an intent.” She said her hope was that the Sheriff would tell the librarians, “you can’t do this,” and “if you continue to do this, then there would be charges.” Tapley added that she “didn’t really want to see anybody have their life ruined.”
In an interview, Tapley downplayed her role at the Sheriff’s Office, claiming she was not “seeking out any books and trying to go to the police with it or anything.” She described her role “as a helper.” She only put her name on the report “so that somebody else could be protected.” In an email, Tapley said she “had no interactions with the Sheriff’s Office beyond accompanying a citizen there” and “any reporting that states otherwise would be unfactual.”
Popular Information has posted the full video from the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office on YouTube.
“To see the orchestrated campaign to remove books from schools escalate to a police station is shocking,” Kasey Meehan, a Director at PEN America, a non-profit dedicated to free expression, told Popular Information. “Professional librarians apply sensible measures to curate their collections for diverse audiences of readers, and they should not be punished for making knowledge accessible to students that falls well short of the well-established legal standards for obscene materials.” Stephana Ferrell of the Florida Freedom to Read Project described the tactics of Moms for Liberty members in Santa Rosa County as an effort to “bully the district into sacrificing access to protected speech.”
Popular Information contacted Mariya Cakins, the chair of Santa Rosa Moms for Liberty, for comment. Cakins said that she would be happy to speak, but the request needed to be routed through the national Moms for Liberty organization. The group never responded to that request. Popular Information was unable to identify reliable contact information for Gurski.
The efforts of Tapley and Gurski to initiate an investigation by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office appear to be unsuccessful. According to a document obtained through a public records request, the Sheriff’s Office quickly referred the report to Daniel Hahn, the director of safety at Santa Rosa County Florida School District. The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office then closed the case.
Gurski, however, is having better luck with other law enforcement agencies.
Florida police department has open criminal investigation of Florida librarians
“Approximately ten days ago, I had a book in my hand that was issued by the Milton school library, which is not your jurisdiction,” Gurski told Deputy Mabire at the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office. “I went to the Milton police station. Submitted an affidavit and the evidence of that particular book. And they have that now for investigation.” Gurski said he considered the book pornography.
Tapley says the book reported by Gurski to the Milton police was another young adult novel, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. The book is a romantic comedy and has some sexual situations and discussions. It also includes LGBTQ characters. It is recommended by Common Sense Media, an independent non-profit that evaluates media for parents, and Publishers Weekly for readers 14 and older.
In response to a public records request, the Milton Police Department said it could not release any information regarding Gurski’s complaint about the book because there is an “open and active investigation pending State Attorney review.”
The Vicki Baggett connection
Tapley told Popular Information that Vicki Baggett, an English teacher in Escambia County, has been “helping us.” Baggett, who Popular Information interviewed earlier this year, has challenged hundreds of books in public school libraries, including many that have LGBTQ characters or address racism. Baggett told Popular Information that she challenged When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball — the inspirational story of a Black woman who overcame racial prejudice to become an Olympic champion — because it would make white students “feel uncomfortable” as “they are being white-shamed.” In a follow-up report, Baggett’s current and former students alleged that Baggett openly promoted racist and homophobic beliefs in class. Nevertheless, Baggett has been successful in getting numerous books removed from Escambia public schools. The Escambia school district is now facing a federal lawsuit from a group of authors and First Amendment advocates.
Tapley described Baggett as “a valiant warrior for the kids, an amazing English teacher, and a wonderful Christian woman.” According to Tapley, Baggett has come to Santa Rosa County and “has been helping us see what’s in our libraries.” Many of the challenges in Santa Rosa County are duplicates of those Baggett submitted in Escambia County. “She’s been the catalyst really for a lot of this,” Tapley said. “She taught me how to do it.” Baggett initially submitted the challenges in Santa Rosa County herself, but those were rejected because she is not a resident. Many of those challenges have been resubmitted with Baggett’s name alongside a Santa Rosa County resident.
7. Tapley also points the finger at Ruth Witter, the head librarian for the county. Tapley presents the officers with a printout of Witter's Facebook page and claims it is proof that "she [has been a] member of Santa Rosa County Stop Moms for Liberty since May."— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 6, 2023
On Monday, Popular Information reported that activists with a Florida chapter of Moms for Liberty reported several librarians to law enforcement, claiming that they had committed felonies by distributing pornography to students. The “pornography” at issue was actually a popular young adult novel, Storm and Fury, that mostly involves gargoyles fighting demons. It is recommended for teens by the School Library Journal, a professional association of Florida librarians, and Barnes & Noble.
Popular Information obtained a body cam video of the activists meeting with deputies from the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office. “The governor says this is child pornography. It’s a serious crime,” Jennifer Tapley, one of the Moms for Liberty activists, said. “It’s just as serious as if I handed a playboy to [my child] right now, right here, in front of you. It’s just as serious, according to the law.”
Tapley and the other activist, Tom Gurski, were not freelancing. Their reports to law enforcement were an official agenda item at a Moms For Liberty meeting last week.
As of Tuesday night, the video had been viewed over 6.5 million times on social media. It has also generated a flood of local, national, and international media coverage, including the New York Post, The Daily Beast, The Independent, The Tampa Bay Times, WMNF (Tampa public radio), and WEAR News (Pensacola’s ABC affiliate).
Popular Information’s video featured on WEAR News, the ABC affiliate in Pensacola, Florida
Tapley, who is also a candidate for school board, was not pleased that she was being held accountable for her actions. On Facebook, she accused Popular Information of “Antifa-style tactics.” In another Facebook post, Tapley said she felt “sad for those who have fallen for the poorly-written tabloid hit piece vomited up by an activist lawyer with a name resembling a most unsavory vegetable.”
Tapley also accused Popular Information of “distort[ing] and fabricat[ing] the ‘facts.'” This claim was rejected by the New York Post, a right-wing publication that normally provides favorable coverage of Moms For Liberty. “[Tapley] even denied the incident in a Facebook post – despite the body camera footage,” the New York Post reported.
Judd Legum is the founder and author of Popular Information, an independent newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism. You can reach Legum at [email protected].
The preceding article was previously published by Popular Information and is republished with permission.
Historic grand marshal, 200K+ at Orlando’s “Come Out With Pride”
Saturday’s “Come Out With Pride” parade turned downtown Orlando into the epicenter of unconditional love and respect, and it was loud
ORLANDO, Fla. – Downtown Orlando Saturday was thronged with over 200 thousand revelers for the 2023 “Come Out With Pride” festival and parade. Gathering at the festival grounds at Lake Eola, record numbers of LGBTQ+ Central Floridians celebrated Pride.
Openly gay former Democratic Florida House of Representatives member Carlos Guillermo Smith who had represented a portion of Orlando in Tallahassee told multiple media outlets: “Despite Ron DeSantis’ efforts to censor and erase our community, LGBTQ Orlandans are celebrating pride in record numbers. We marched for the freedom and equality of all Floridians, not just some.”
“It’s so important for people to celebrate who they are. We’re seeing so many attacks against the LGBTQ community, but we’ve seen record turnout at Pride in Orlando and across Florida.”— Carlos Guillermo Smith (@CarlosGSmith) October 22, 2023
“They want us to be fearful, but our message is one of hope and love + LOVE always wins.” 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/tnvYOrJlQF
Democratic Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, serving as the U.S. representative for Florida’s 10th congressional district and the first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress, led a contingent of supporters in the parade later tweeting: “ORLANDO PRIDE WAS AMAZING!”
ORLANDO PRIDE WAS AMAZING! pic.twitter.com/M2pGr4Sz3u— Maxwell Alejandro Frost (@MaxwellFrostFL) October 22, 2023
This year’s Orlando Pride saw a series of firsts in addition to record attendance. For the first time ever NBC News local affiliate WESH 2- CW18 WKCF TV covered the Orlando Pride Parade.
WESH NBC 2 reported: Saturday’s “Come Out With Pride” parade turned Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando into the epicenter of unconditional love and respect, and it was loud.
Just one example was Democratic Orlando Congressman Maxwell Frost, singing and dancing on a float with a full band that was heavy on drums.
He was just one of the politicians making it clear they wanted conservative Florida, especially Republican lawmakers, to hear them.
“This event is important because right now across the state there is a lot of hate but today is about love in the ‘City Beautiful’ Orlando, where we love each other no matter what, with music and everything,” Frost said.
Others pushed back on Republican-backed laws aimed at restricting transgender health, drag shows and workplace diversity training.
Former state representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith is running for the Florida Senate, and told WESH NBC 2 News, “Right now we’re seeing so many attacks on our community from Tallahassee, which is why you are seeing record turnout. They want us to be fearful, but our message is one of hope and one of love because love always wins.”
The youngest grand marshal in the Pride event’s 18-year history this year was 11-year-old Dempsey Jara, who told reporters that she would continue “standing tall” in her identity, despite the recent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws plaguing her state and the ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from hate groups like Moms for Liberty.
The young trans-activist trailblazer told the gathered press corps that “Being transgender is not about a choice. It’s about being true to myself. It’s about embracing who I am even when the world tries to tell me otherwise. It’s about standing tall in my identity even when it’s really hard.”
Demsey’s schoolteacher mother Jaime Jara, 45, told the Orlando Sentinel:
“She’s been on this journey since she was five and she’s living her best life.
“She’s just always gravitated toward girl things, girls’ toys. She’d say, ‘I’m a girl in my heart and my brain’.”
Dempsey Jara, posting about the parade on the Instagram account that her parents run, shared footage from Saturday’s Pride with the caption: “Yesterday was the best day of my life!
“It’s not easy to be a constant target of hate, but I remain visible because I want other Trans kids to know there is such #joy in being your authentic self. Thank you, #Orlando, for showering me with so much love! #bewhoyouare”
Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer, a longtime supporter and ally of the LGBTQ+ community noted on X (formerly Twitter): “What an incredible display of Orlando’s commitment to inclusion and vibrancy. During @OrlandoPride we show our support to our city’s LGBTQ+ community and showcase to the rest of the state and country that in Orlando, love will always be stronger than hate.”
Earlier this week it was learned that Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were massacred in an anti-LGBTQ+ shooting spree in 2016, has been sold.
WESH NBC 2 has confirmed with multiple sources that the city of Orlando is purchasing the property from owners Barbara and Rosario Poma and Mike Panaggio. The deal was struck about two weeks ago and will go before the Orlando City Council on Monday, Oct. 23 for approval. WESH 2 has confirmed the property is being purchased for $2 million, and that there is no opposition to the deal according to city sources.
Florida GOP attack a Mayor, saying they’re “disturbed & disgusted”
“At best, it is beneath the dignity of the office of Mayor to attend [Pride] events that seek to push sex on our children”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The participation of Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan, a Democrat, in that city’s Pride festivities, the first Mayor to attend River City Pride, and the Grand Marshal of the event this past weekend irked local Republicans who labeled her actions as “morally repugnant.”
Jacksonville, located on the Atlantic coast of northeastern Florida, is the most populous city in the state and has recently seen several cases of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination including the Jacksonville First Baptist Church, which last January required its members to sign an anti-LGBTQ pledge, vowing adherence to “biblical sexuality.”
Also within the last year, the local school district, Duval County Public Schools, had ordered principals to remove all posters, wall decorations, and stickers that support and affirm LGBTQ students.
Happy Pride! 🌈 What a beautiful day to celebrate diversity and inclusion! pic.twitter.com/FMeh8vCuYa— Mayor Donna Deegan (@MayorDeegan) October 8, 2023
Republican Rep. Dean Black, who represents Jacksonville in the Florida House of Representatives, and is currently Chair of the Duval GOP told Florida Politics on Monday:
“We are disturbed and disgusted to see the Mayor’s participation as the Grand Marshal at an alleged ‘family-friendly’ event where sex toys were displayed and condoms were handed out to children,” Black said Monday.
“At best, it is beneath the dignity of the office of Mayor to attend events that seek to push sex on our children. At worst, it is morally repugnant for *any* person, let alone the Mayor, to be endorsing or supporting such behavior.”
“We call on our elected representatives to take further steps to prevent this from happening again. It should not take legislation to enforce this commonsense principle: stop sexualizing our children,” Black added. “Further, we call on Mayor Deegan to condemn and disavow this conduct, as well as give assurances that she will not continue to use her office to embarrass our city and disrespect parents.”
Black also stated that “legislation” might be necessary to “prevent this from happening again.”
A local Florida-based far right media outlet, Florida’s Voice also critiqued the Mayor in a tweet with a video noting: “Condoms thrown at kids during Jacksonville Pride Parade where mayor Donna Deegan is the Grand Marshal.”
WATCH: Condoms thrown at kids during Jacksonville Pride Parade where mayor Donna Deegan is the Grand Marshal pic.twitter.com/9irDEPylLh— Florida’s Voice (@FLVoiceNews) October 8, 2023
Mayor Deegan’s office has not yet responded to requests for comment on the local Republican Chairman’s statement.
Florida’s Charlotte County schools purge LGBTQ+ books
The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law over 2 weeks ago and has not corrected it
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Charlotte County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello has instructed librarians in all district schools to purge any book that contained LGBTQ+ themes, mentions, or characters.
According to a public records request by the non-profit advocacy group Florida Freedom to Read Project, district librarians sought guidance regarding how to apply an expansion of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to all grades.
“Are we removing books from any school/media center, PreK-12 if a character has, for example, 2 mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?” the librarians asked. Charlotte County Superintendent Mark Vianello answered, “Yes.”
According to journalist Judd Legum, the guidance by Vianello and the school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, was obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP) through a public records request and shared with Popular Information. FFTRP requested “electronic records of district and school decisions regarding classroom and library materials.” In response, FFTRP received a document memorializing a July 24 conversation between Vianello and district librarians, known in Florida as media specialists.
The guidance made clear that all books with LGBTQ characters are to be removed even if the book contained no sexually explicit content. The librarians asked if they could retain books in school and classroom libraries with LGBTQ characters “as long as they do not have explicit sex scenes or sexual descriptions and are not approaching ‘how to’ manuals for how to be an LGBTQ+ person.” Vianello responded, “No. Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers.”
"Are we removing books from any school/media center, Prek-12 if a character has, for example, 2 mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?" the librarians asked. Charlotte County Superintendent Mark Vianello answered, "Yes." https://t.co/hWwS2xNmir— Florida Freedom to Read Project (@FLFreedomRead) September 26, 2023
Equality Florida reacted in a statement saying:
“The school district superintendent in Charlotte County instructed librarians in public schools to remove all books with LGBTQ characters or themes from school and classroom libraries.
“Our schools have been turned over to book-banning extremists who censor and whitewash history and relentlessly attack LGBTQ students and parents. We cannot let DeSantis’ path of destruction continue.
Banning books does not protect our children, it’s detrimental to their education. Ron DeSantis has launched an all-out assault on the core values of freedom, equality, and democracy. He has ignored the real challenges in our state to sow division and pursue an agenda of government intrusion and control. We must stand up and fight against the harm being done to our students.”
“Every child deserves to have their lives reflected in the books available in their public school classroom or library,” Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the FFTRP told Popular Information. “The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law and state rule over two weeks ago, and has not acted to correct it. Public school families in Florida deserve better. We cannot tolerate this discriminatory exclusion.”
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools told Popular Information that books with LGBTQ characters were removed from libraries because “there are elementary schools that utilize their school library media center as classrooms… [for] elective courses that our students are officially scheduled into and attend on a regular basis.” Therefore, the library “is considered a classroom setting.” As a result, “our school board attorney advises that we do not make books with these themes available in media centers that serve as classrooms since this would be considered ‘classroom instruction’ and such instruction and/or availability of these themes may not occur in PreK- grade 8.”
A spokesperson later issued a clarification Tuesday:
“Books featuring LGBTQ characters are accessible in the media center for grades 9-12. While they may not be utilized for classroom instruction, these books are available for individual study and can be borrowed by students. The document… served as a training resource, and the discussion accompanying it provided further guidance to educators.”
Orlando Police make arrest in anti-LGBTQ graffiti & vandalism
The OPD announced the arrest of Matthew Michael Robinson, a 34-year-old white male who was charged with 3 counts of Criminal Mischief
ORLANDO, Fla. – On Wednesday the Orlando Police Department announced that an arrest had been made in the hate crime vandalism of LGBTQ+ murals at the Orlando LGBTQ Center with hateful messages and Nazi symbols August 26, 2023.
The OPD announced the arrest of Matthew Michael Robinson, a 34-year-old white male who was charged with 3 counts of Criminal Mischief. The OPD noted that they will be seeking hate crime enhancements “for evidence of prejudice during the commission of these crimes.”
The Center has been targeted before with incidents stretching back over a decade. In May of 2020, a Pulse memorial mural on the walls of the center was vandalized with white supremacist stickers and graffiti.
On September 13, 2023, Matthew Michael Robinson (34yoa W/M) was arrested and charged with 3 counts of Criminal Mischief. We will be seeking enhancements for evidence of prejudice during the commission of these crimes.— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) September 13, 2023
Full details of the crimes he committed ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/QYeuS9HoB7
Democratic state Representative Anna V. Eskamani, who represents a District that includes Orlando and a longtime LGBTQ+ community ally noted on X/Twitter at the time of the incident: “These [photos] were shared by the ED of our LGBTQ+ Center — absolutely disgusting. Will do what we can to identify who did this and hold them accountable.”
The murals were created by the LGBTQ+ youth organization Zebra Youth, who said in a Facebook post: “We were just informed that @orlandopolice has made an arrest for the mural vandalism that impacted both @zebra_youth and @thecenterorlando – the investigation is still ongoing and reports can be made to @crimelinefl”
Volunteers gathered at the center to white-wash the hate speech and symbols and repair the damage. The volunteers were joined by Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan.
Orlando Police are asking that if anyone is aware of the incident or has further information to please contact detectives.
Editorial board of Orlando Sentinel chastises GOP state lawmakers
“Even after all the news coverage, it’s hard to fathom the depths of toxic, illogical thinking behind a missive sent to Mt. Dora city leaders”
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board chastised the four Republican lawmakers for threatening Mount Dora City officials with punitive actions after the city implemented a LGBTQ ‘Safe Space’ program.
The Orlando Sentinel, which is the primary newspaper of the Central Florida region as well as the 3rd largest daily newspaper by circulation in the state, wrote:
“Even after all the news coverage, it’s hard to fathom the depths of toxic, illogical thinking behind a missive sent to Mount Dora city leaders by the Lake County legislative delegation, in response to the city’s approval of a “safe spaces” program that encourages business leaders to offer refuge to people threatened with harassment or violence.
Smugly hateful, the missive carried a thinly veiled threat to punish Mount Dora residents if their City Council doesn’t knuckle under. The Republican lawmakers signing off on it —Sen. Dennis Baxley, and Reps. Keith Truenow, Taylor Yarkosky and Stan McClain — should be ashamed of themselves. They aren’t.
Their letter read, “We believe that you are putting the City of Mount Dora in the crosshairs of potentially detrimental and absolutely unnecessary, economic harm.” No, fellas, that’s you: This threat is coming from inside the House (and Senate, and governor’s mansion).
Mount Dora council members and residents are precisely the wrong audience for this nonsense. Voters chose LGBTQ leaders for three of the seven council seats. And city leaders are well aware of the upswing in threats and actual crimes this brand of poisonous politicking spawns.”
In a August 21st letter to the City of Mt. Dora, state Senator Dennis Baxley, along with state Representatives Keith L. Truenow, Taylor Michael Yarkosky, and Stan McClain expressed outrage at the actions undertaken to protect LGBTQ+ people who may feel threatened.
The four Republican state lawmakers, all from Central Florida declared that they would be exploring “all legislative, legal and executive options available” to overturn the actions of this small town’s business community, government officials and its police department to mark ‘Safe Spaces’ for the LGBTQ+ community.
Former state lawmaker, Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is openly gay had tweeted:
OK, WE GET IT ALREADY. Florida Republican lawmakers have made it absolutely, and unequivocally clear that they do not want any safe spaces for LGBTQ people in our state. Yet, we’ll keep creating them because we can.
OK, WE GET IT ALREADY. Florida Republican lawmakers have made it absolutely, and unequivocally clear that they do not want any safe spaces for LGBTQ people in our state.— Carlos Guillermo Smith (@CarlosGSmith) August 23, 2023
Yet, we’ll keep creating them because we can. https://t.co/s0KVW7zoLM
Read the full Orlando Sentinel editorial here: (Link)
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