By Mike Lednovich
What was intended as a solemn city commission proclamation honoring transgender victims who were murdered because of their gender identity instead was marred by Commissioner Darron Ayscue denouncing the reading of the statement.
That sparked supporters bellowing insults of “Bigot!” “What are you afraid of?” and “Shame on you!”
The emotionally charged reading brought to a head weeks of tension between Mayor Bradley Bean and Fernandina Beach Pride. Bean had previously said he would not read the proclamation at Tuesday’s city commission meeting. That resulted in days of backlash from Pride President Jordan Morris and the organization’s supporters.
Commissioner Chip Ross stepped up at the eleventh hour to read the Transgender Day of Remembrance Proclamation, which began uneasily with Mayor Bean stating, “Now Commissioner Ross will read his proclamation.”
The comment drew a quick rebuke from Ross who shot back, “This is the city commission’s proclamation.”
Standing behind the lecturn, Ross was soon enveloped by a swarm of 50 Pride members and supporters as he read the proclamation.
After a written statement read by Pride’s Morris, Ayscue began speaking as the supporters began disassembling.
“I will not support this proclamation. I believe this proclamation silences, out of fear, part of our community who is going to be labeled transphobic because they speak out on this proclamation,” Ayscue said. “This proclamation also instills fear of a cancel culture. And, for those individuals who are scared to speak up, and many of them have spoken to me, I’m using my voice to speak for them.”
Ayscue’s statement drew an immediate chorus of howls from the supporters, leading Mayor Bean to recess the meeting until the supporters had left the room.
“I regret there is some drama on the third reading (before the city commission) of this proclamation, and it’s overshadowed why we’re really here tonight,” Morris said after Ross had finished the proclamation. “Here in 2023, the transgender community is under attack, especially here in Florida, where they are villainized by legislation that prevents them from full participation in the society.”
Morris cited statistics that one percent of the U.S. population is transgender.
“Think about that. One percent of the island’s population is about 300 to 400 people,” he said. “That’s 300 to 400 taxpayers. That’s 300 to 400 voters. Basically a medium-sized neighborhood full of people who are brothers, sisters, son and daughters who are active contributors to society. It so happens they tend to be murdered at a much higher rate then the general population. That’s why we’re here.”
Before rejecting reading the proclamation, Bean approached Morris Monday afternoon with alternative versions of the document.
One version of Bean’s draft proclamation removed all mention of the word transgender and proclaimed “Crime Victims Week.” The other version was identical except for proclaiming the week “Transgender Day of Remembrance.”
Morris said of Bean’s drafts, “The mayor’s draft proclamation eviscerated the intent and meaning of Transgender Day of Remembrance. The draft language was more about anti-violence in general. There was not one mention of violence against transgender people, and I was very concerned with that. The draft was unacceptable, and I told the mayor this isn’t going to work.”
Bean then told Morris he was rejecting reading the proclamation.
Bean’s stance sent city staff scurrying to determine the proper procedure for another city commissioner to read into the city record a proclamation that was not signed by the mayor. That resulted in the first time in recent history that a city commissioner affixed his signature to a city proclamation to make it official.
Pride members and supporters stood in the darkness outside city hall after the recess, mostly stunned by what had transpired.
“It’s 2023, and I can’t believe our community and leaders have sunk to these depths,” said a supporter who asked not to be identified. “Very dispiriting.”
Hours later, during public comments to the city commission, several speakers chastised Bean for his refusal to read the proclamation.
“I’m very disappointed that our mayor, you Mr. Bean, have taken a stance that you will not read a proclamation requested by a group of city residents. You are elected as a commissioner to represent all citizens of this community,” said Victoria Robas. “You have read hundreds of proclamations in your role as mayor. Now you decide to pick and choose which of the multitude of individuals and organizations which make up the fabric of this community you will bless with a proclamation. What’s next Mr. Mayor? Will you refuse to read proclamations regarding black citizens, our Asian community or those with disabilities or minorities? Tyranny has small beginnings, and you have just shown this community how it’s done.”
Former Mayor Arlene Filkoff said, “I’ve always been a champion of the underdog. I understood (as mayor) my job wasn’t to be anybody’s minister or rabbi. My job was to be all inclusive to every citizen of this community. This proclamation was endorsing a memorial day for transgender people who were killed for being who they are. The proclamation didn’t mean that you agree with transgender. This is not something anyone should be OK with.”