LGBTQ activists throughout Florida knew the names Christian and Bridget Ziegler long before they appeared in national headlines. Now, many hope never to face the conservative leaders in political circles ever again.
A press call organized by the Florida Democratic Party served as chance to renew prior demands that Christian Ziegler resign as Republican Party of Florida Chair amid an active rape investigation. But private revelations about the couple’s sex life, disclosed to police and revealed in a search warrant, have critics seething at the personal hypocrisy.
Both Christian and Bridget Ziegler confirmed a prior sexual encounter together with the woman accusing the party Chair of rape. Communications in the warrant indicate Christian Ziegler was on the way to a prearranged encounter with the woman, but she told him not to come if Bridget Ziegler was not going to be a part of the tryst. She told police that Christian Ziegler showed up anyway and raped her.
Former Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, said the accusation against Christian Ziegler must be taken seriously. But he’s also livid at Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota School Board member who championed controversial policy like Florida’s “parental rights” law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics.
He called on both to resign any public or partisan positions, including demanding Bridget Ziegler step down from the School Board.
“What’s offensive about the Zieglers isn’t that they’re in a non-traditional relationship,” Smith said. “It’s that they baselessly accused LGBTQ Floridians of immorality, sexual perversion and deviance simply because of our non-traditional LGBTQ relationships. That’s the worst kind of hypocrisy.”
Bridget Ziegler was among the three co-founders of Moms For Liberty, a parental rights group designated as an “extremist” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. She has also been a major advocate for education policies over a decade including removal of books from school libraries with LGBTQ content, segregation of bathrooms by gender assigned at birth, and restrictions on participation in sports by transgender students.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said this scandal may marginalize Moms for Liberty to the point of irrelevance.
“Because the foundation was so weak to begin with, the whole entire organization is going to start to crumble,” she said.
Importantly, Bridget Ziegler stepped away from any role at Moms for Liberty in 2021.
Brevard County School Board Member Jennifer Jenkins, who faced heavy fire last year from the Republican Party and Moms for Liberty, said she’s been alarmed at the organized campaign the past two years against LGBTQ students and faculty. She said the Zieglers were too willing to serve as a face of that bigotry.
“As a female elected official, I’ve experienced the harassment of the Florida Republican Party and members of Moms for Liberty, spreading allegations of an affair through an obsessive website, critiquing the way that I dress and a state representative calling me a whore — all under the guise of protecting from predators while intentionally avoiding their very own mirrors,” Jenkins said.
“And when it comes to the Zieglers, not a damn word for Moms for Liberty except standing with them in solidarity — not once, but twice. If the incidents that took place were written in a chapter book, Moms for Liberty would be rallying to ban them, condemning the author and the educators who curated it.”
Later Tuesday, Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice did release a statement on the accusations against Christian Ziegler.
“We have been truly shaken to read of the serious, criminal allegations against Christian Ziegler. We believe any allegation of sexual assault should be taken seriously and fully investigated. Bridget Ziegler resigned from her role as co-founder with Moms for Liberty within a month of our launch in January of 2021, nearly three years ago. She has remained an avid warrior for parental rights across the country,” the statement read.
“To our opponents who have spewed hateful vitriol over the last several days: We reject your attacks. We will continue to empower ALL parents to build relationships that ensure the survival of our nation and a thriving education system. We are laser-focused on fundamental parental rights, and that mission is and always will be bigger than any one person.”
Both Zieglers continue to drum up anti-LGBTQ sentiment locally and statewide, critics alleged. Jordan Letschert, a gay man and Sarasota native, said he moved his family out of Florida over the passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” law and other policies.
“When you take a position of public office, you’re instilled with public trust,” said Letschert, who was active with the Florida Democratic Party when he lived in the state.
“You are supposed to act in a way that is fitting upon that position. I think it’s rather clear when you become a hypocrite that spreads hate speech that has been proven by the Trevor Project to increase suicide rates in children, and you serve on a board that oversees the education of children and you intentionally demonize some of the same children with your (social media) posts and the shirts that you wear.”
Nathan Bruemmer, an LGBTQ advocate and former teacher, said he worked for years in Sarasota on programming with area schools aimed at protecting youth. “We wanted to work together collectively, across the aisle, recognizing that supporting our community members, supporting our most marginalized, was a shared value that we would lean into,” Brummer said.
That largely stopped during Bridget Ziegler’s time on the School Board, especially as she became the face of the parents’ rights movement nationally and Christian Ziegler became the leader of the state party. “It’s time for them to step down,” he said.
House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell commended many Republican colleagues who have also called for Christian Ziegler to step down as party Chair, but said she’s upset the reasoning seems incomplete. Most stress that Ziegler’s continued leadership will hurt Republicans politically, and won’t address the allegations.
“My colleagues in the Legislature are very frustrated with this. They know that it is a blemish on their record and on their party’s record,” the Tampa Democrat said of Republican lawmakers.
“But it would be nice to hear them speak out and say that sexual assault is wrong, that what the Ziegler’s have been accused of is absolutely wrong, or what Christian Ziegler has been accused of is absolutely wrong. But unfortunately, they’ve been so silent.”