A Florida school board is demanding the resignation of Bridget Ziegler after a three-way sex scandal and rape accusations against her husband made national news—and infuriated critics who say her private life is at odds with her anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
Before a public comment period that lasted hours on Tuesday, the Sarasota County School Board voted 4 to 1 to ask the Moms for Liberty co-founder to step down from her position on the panel, which she’d held since 2014. Ziegler was the lone dissenting vote.
Ziegler, 41, spoke briefly at the beginning of the meeting, where a crowd of people waited for their turn to bash her and demand the board take action. The line to get into the proceeding stretched around the building.
“You know, I am disappointed,” Ziegler said in her first public comments since the controversy. “As people may know, I serve on another public board and this issue did not come up and we were able to forge ahead with the business of the board,” she added, referring to her spot on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Disney oversight board.
Ziegler then asked school board lawyer Patrick Duggan: “Just one more time, this does not have any teeth, is that correct?”
“This board has no ability to remove one of the other members,” Duggan answered.
Despite the public reprimand, Ziegler refused to resign, apologize, or even address community concerns.
According to the board’s resolution, only the governor can suspend a board member for malfeasance, neglect of duty, and other alleged violations. Once that happens, the state Senate would then need a majority vote to boot them from office.
The board’s action—drafted by board chair Karen Rose—requested that Ziegler “voluntarily resign” in light of the Sarasota police probe and stated that she “would cause an irreparably harmful distraction” to the board’s ability to conduct business.
Board member Tom Edwards also proposed a resolution that the board send a letter to DeSantis, but it failed.
Throughout the night, the board heard from parents of queer students, transgender residents, and concerned allies.
Sally Sells, the mother of a fifth-grader, pleaded to Ziegler to resign in light of the “blatant hypocrisy” of her building her “political career on espousing the values of traditional marriage—one man, one woman.”
“You’ve been ardently opposed to LGBTQ+ rights when it turns out you’re the B in that LGBTQ+,” Sells said to laughter.
“You and your husband have been one of the main reasons this community is so divided,” Sells added, before asking the board to reconsider writing to the governor.
Jennifer Bowles, mother of three, said she wanted to share what it was like to be the parent of an LGBTQ+ child in Florida.
“In spite of our family’s unconditional love and support, our child knows that ‘their kind’ is not welcome in Sarasota, or in Florida,” Bowles said, “and Ms. Ziegler, I hold you personally accountable for that.”
“It confounds me that you choose to hurt our innocent children by creating laws that ostracize, shame, vilify and isolate them,” Bowles continued, adding that Ziegler’s “sanctimonious piety leaves many of us disgusted.”
Nicholas Machuca, of LGBTQ civil rights group Equality Florida, said Ziegler “has worked relentlessly to target LGBTQ students and families for harassment and discrimination and to erase depictions of LGBTQ people from schools entirely.”
The Zieglers, Machuca added, “have used parents as pawns to advance their radical right-wing agenda.”
“Our students deserve highly qualified and well-trained educators in every classroom. Our students deserve a wide variety of books in libraries. Parents have the right to send their kids to schools that are not overcrowded and unsafe.
“Instead of working on these commonly supported and unifying goals, the Zieglers attacked the LGBTQ community while dabbling in our lifestyle.”
Tsi Day Smyth of Women’s Voices of SW Florida said people weren’t calling for Ziegler’s resignation because of her sexuality or “perceived Christian shortcomings,” but instead because she was “blatantly disingenuous” while passing rules hurting the gay community.
“As a queer parent of four children here in Sarasota County, I have felt for a long time that families like my own have been overlooked by the educational system here in Florida,” Smyth said.
“That is of course until Bridget Ziegler came into the picture. Now I feel like instead we are being targeted. It’s been implied by Bridget Ziegler time and time again that there is an underlying moral corruptness to queerness and that young people need to be protected from it.”
“Bridget,” she added. “It’s okay to say gay.”
Ziegler’s husband, Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler, is also fighting for his political life after a local journalism watchdog revealed that Sarasota cops were investigating him for allegedly raping a woman who’d previously had a threesome with him and Bridget.
The woman told police that the Zieglers planned a rendezvous with her on Oct. 2 but she canceled when she learned Bridget couldn’t make it. Christian Ziegler, she claims, showed up to her apartment anyway and raped her.
Christian Ziegler, who hasn’t been charged criminally, denies the accusations and claims the encounter was consensual.
The Republican activist has refused to resign from his post despite calls to do so from DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, and many other colleagues. As a result, the state GOP scheduled an emergency meeting to address the scandal. “We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” Ziegler recently wrote to party members.
According to reports, Ziegler has also privately compared his predicament to the sexual misconduct allegations against former President Donald Trump and challenged colleagues for rallying against him. News site The Messenger reported that Ziegler allegedly told Lee County GOP Chair Michael Thompson: “Oh, you’re a big Trump guy. But it’s ok for Trump? You don’t call on him to resign but you want me to step down?”
The Zieglers haven’t spoken publicly about the accusations.
A search warrant affidavit revealed that Bridget Ziegler told detectives that “she knew the victim through her husband” and “confirmed having a sexual encounter with the victim and Christian over a year ago and that it only happened one time.”
Before the board meeting, Support Our Schools and other organizations defending public education and LGBTQ rights held a press conference demanding Bridget Ziegler issue a public apology and relinquish her seat. The protest included signs declaring “Don’t Say 3-Way” and “Ban Bridget Not Books” and chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bridget Ziegler’s got to go!” Someone also distributed free T-shirts reading “Real Women Aren’t Transphobic Bigots,” a parody of Ziegler’s “Real Women Aren’t Men” shirt, which she posted on X.
“No wonder the Proud Boys and General [Mike] Flynn supported her the last time she ran for office,” said Carol Lerner, a retired public school social worker and co-founder of Support Our Schools. “The Zieglers are pure through and through grifters, making big bucks while they spew bigotry and homophobia.”
“Voters need to pay attention to the players in the field,” added one parent, Tamara Solum. “The Zieglers have made their fame and fortune on the backs of our students. Their greed and desire for power have exploited children and caused damage to our schools.”
The fallout from the threesome controversy led Bridget Ziegler to part ways with her job at the Leadership Institute. Last year, she was hired as the conservative nonprofit’s director of school board programs, helping to train right-leaning school board candidates.
Bridget Ziegler, who helped DeSantis craft the “Don’t Say Gay” law, also sits on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. DeSantis created the board to oversee Walt Disney World’s property as punishment for the company’s opposition to the legislation.
As The Daily Beast reported, the Zieglers became MAGA royalty for pushing their conservative politics in Sarasota and beyond. Their tactics, however, also made them enemies on both sides of the aisle.
One state Republican operative told The Daily Beast that it’s revealing that the Zieglers have few colleagues defending them. “I’ve never seen that in the world of politics,” they said. “In the world of fake news, and witch hunts, and hoaxes, this is the one instance where everybody is not surprised, and is ready to go in for the kill. And it is not just Democrats.”
Bridget Ziegler co-founded Moms for Liberty—the right-wing group lately making headlines for working to ban books with LGBTQ and race-related themes—in 2021 as an effort to fight COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates in schools.
As a school board member, Bridget also pushed for parents to be notified if students identify as transgender and for the district to hire a consultant with ties to Hillsdale College, a Christian liberal arts school based in Michigan.
Earlier this year, she refused to shut down one mom who spewed homophobic comments toward Edwards, who is openly gay, at another school board meeting.
Ziegler, however, wasn’t without supporters on Tuesday.
“Bridget, I beg you not to resign,” Barbara Vaughn said. “I think it would be admirable for you to make some apology in the press. Isn’t it the press that got us into all of this?”
“The press is who needs to ask for forgiveness, as well as the people who egged the press into writing these articles.”
Failed congressional candidate Martin Hyde, who went viral for threatening a police officer who pulled him over, declared, “Is this a meeting of the school board? Or is this a meeting of hypocrites anonymous?”
“I saw people outside wearing T-shirts—‘make America kind’—standing outside with looks in their eyes that would kill.”
But students and recent graduates also showed up to the meeting to address Ziegler directly.
Hannah Silva, a senior at Suncoast Polytechnical High in Sarasota, thanked Ziegler for “being the driving force” behind her activism.
“Your advocacy for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and other dangerous policies that directly affect immigrant and BIPOC students has changed how I live my day-to-day life,” Silva said. “Rather than spend my time being a kid, I’ve now dedicated a large part of my free time for advocating for the rights of my communities in this county which you have helped strip away.”
“Your endless hypocrisy has inspired even the youth to speak out against it,” Silva continued. “So once again, I thank you for reducing the quality of student life in Sarasota County to the point where I as a student must be the one to tell you the damage that you have done.”
“Resign. Thank you.”
Another speaker, Zander Moricz, was an openly gay class president who joined a lawsuit against the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Moricz was censored from mentioning his activism during his graduation speech last year. Instead, he used curly hair as a euphemism for being gay.
“Bridget, our first ever interaction was when you retweeted a hate article about me … while I was a Sarasota County school student,” Moricz said. “You are a reminder that some people view politics as a service to others while some view it as an opportunity for themselves.”
Moricz said Ziegler fought to change public schools for the worse by cutting books from libraries, erasing Black history, and targeting queer students to boost her political career—all while sending her kids to private school.
Ziegler’s sexual encounter with a woman, he added, wasn’t why people were calling for her ouster.
“You deserve to be fired from your job because you are terrible at your job,” he said. “Not because you had sex with a woman.”