Tallulah Brand, aged 12, of Sarasota, Florida, was doing her homework last Thursday when she heard the last name “Ziegler” emerge from the TV news.
“Her ears kind of perked up and she looked on the TV and saw Christian Ziegler,” her mother, Kia Brand, told The Daily Beast.
Christian Ziegler is the chair of the Florida GOP, and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, who was also mentioned in the news report, was chair of the Sarasota School Board.
Tallulah had spoken with precocious eloquence against book banning during the public comment session at several board meetings. And the Zieglers were now both involved in a scandal.
“I thought it was just another thing that would come and pass,” Tallulah recalled.
But over the days ahead, the seventh grader kept hearing talk about the Zieglers on the news.
“Finally, she was kind of like, ‘Well, what exactly is going on?’” her mother recalled. “And I’m not going to hide it from her. It’s not like she’s a little child.”
The mother told Tallulah that Christian Ziegler had been accused of rape. But that was only part of the story.
“I said, ‘One of the reasons why people are so upset with Bridget is that she said that they had had a three-way with the woman,’” the mother recalled.
The mother watched Tallulah’s eyes widen.
“She’s like, ‘Bridget had a girlfriend?’” the mother remembered. “And I’m like, ‘No, it wasn’t her girlfriend.’”
Tallulah was not suggesting there would be anything wrong with Bridget Ziegler having a girlfriend. What troubled Tallulah about the alleged threesome was that Ziegler had implicitly condemned same-sex encounters in her various efforts to demonize the LGBTQ+ community.
”My immediate thought was that she was a hypocrite,” Tallulah recalled.
Her mother remembers Tallulah exclaiming, “Oh, how the tables have turned.”
Tallulah later noted to The Daily Beast that Bridget Ziegler once posted online a photo of herself in a T-shirt reading “REAL WOMEN AREN’T MEN.” And Tallulah has seen the impact on classmates of homophobia stoked by grown-ups in the name of protecting children.
“A lot of kids have been more nervous about coming out if they even have a suspicion that they might be gay or in the LGBTQ-plus community,” she said.
Bridget Ziegler has been a political darling of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity. DeSantis instituted a measure barring teachers from calling kids by a nickname without written permission from the parents.
“I don’t agree with that because they’re mainly targeting trans people,” Tallulah said.
Tallulah reports that she hears little talk at school about the Ziegler scandal despite the rank hypocrisy that has adults still buzzing. Most kids, it seems, just want to be kids.
“We don’t wanna have to care about all this stuff about Bridget Ziegler,” Tallulah said. “I just want to be able to care about being able to express myself without being scared that someone’s gonna hate on me for it.”
In March, Tallulah was the lead-off speaker at a Florida Freedom to Read event in Tallahassee. She spoke with the passion of someone whose idea of a great hangout is the local public library.
“It’s one of my favorite places to be,” she told The Daily Beast.
Tallulah has not yet decided whether she will sign up for the public comment session when the school board next convenes on Dec. 12. But she definitely plans to attend. One big question is whether Bridget Ziegler will dare show and face the general outrage over what Tallulah rightly calls hypocrisy.
“I think the next school board meeting is going to be very interesting, for sure,” Tallulah said.