The above video was recorded at the March 7 Sarasota County School Board Meeting.
SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tom Edwards, an openly gay member of the Sarasota County School Board, walked out of a meeting Tuesday after members of the public made a number of homophobic comments.
At a previous board meeting on March 7, Melissa Bakondy, a frequent public commenter with reported ties to conservative group Moms for Liberty, accused Edwards of being a “gay liquor salesman and supporter of LGBTQ grooming events,” and a “lawbreaker and LGBTQ groomer.”
Bakondy did not provide any evidence supporting her repeated claims that Edwards was a groomer.
She also called for an investigation of Edwards by state officials and said parents should have to give informed consent before allowing him to enter schools for reading events with children.
“I am calling upon Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove woke school board [member] Tom Edwards as he is a threat to the innocence of our children and the rule of law in our great state of Florida,” Bakondy said.
On Tuesday, another public commenter, Sally Nista, echoed comments made by Bakondy at the previous board meeting.
“Interesting up until 45 minutes ago, nobody stated that what Melissa Bakondy stated at the last meeting was false. Tom Edwards is who he is, the fact that Melissa points out is what seems to be so upsetting. Why is it upsetting?” Nista asked. “Because what Tom stands for and what Tom wants to do to our children in this school district isn’t what a majority of what—.”
Nista’s comments were interrupted by a crowd that started shouting. Sarasota School Board Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler told the crowd to let her finish speaking. This is when Edward walked out. Like Bakondy, Nista did not present any evidence to support her claims against Edwards.
“I’m sorry I’m not going to sit here and allow this,” he said, according to the Sarasota County Democratic Party.
Ziegler, as previously reported, is a co-founder of conservative nonprofit Moms For Liberty.
Bakondy also appeared at Tuesday’s meeting and accused a local news organization of “colluding” with a publicly elected official to “attack a private citizen, mother, and woman,” and thanked them for the “free press,” and repeated her claims about Edwards.
Bakondy was booed as she left the podium.
It appears Edwards’ colleagues did not defend him at either meeting, or put a stop to the homophobic commentary.
Edwards did not return to the meeting after he walked out. He has not made any public comments regarding either incident.
The Sarasota County Democratic Party released a statement, saying Edwards was slandered, and that Ziegler allowed “an individual to sling homophobic slurs from the podium.”
“Sally Nista took to the microphone to slander Edwards again. Nista, a local Republican activist openly affiliated with the Proud Boys, is a member of the Republican Party of Sarasota’s Executive Committee,” the release said.
According to the statement, Ziegler has since apologized to Edwards.
“That was wildly uncomfortable and inappropriate, and I apologize to Mr. Edwards. Just as much as I do not believe anyone’s sexual orientation should be discussed in a classroom or in an office, I do not believe it’s relevant or should be discussed at this dais or in these chambers,” she said, according to the statement.
However, the Democratic Party claims Ziegler’s apology was “only for show.”
Ziegler’s husband, Christian Ziegler, who serves as the chair of the Florida GOP, took to Twitter on the night of the meeting and accused Edwards of leaving for show.
“Did Tom give you a heads up on the incoming theatrics? There’s a reason his nickname is Tommy Drama,” Christian Ziegler tweeted. “If he can’t take public criticism, he shouldn’t be a public official. I was called some nasty stuff as a County Commissioner, but never walked out. He is doing this for show, nothing more.”