Standing Proud

Tom Edwards is a voice of reason in a time when it is needed most. His actions, words, and votes as a school board member always focus on what is best for our students, staff, and community. When Project Pride’s leadership invited him to be Grand Marshall for their parade on October 21, he accepted this honor. He embraced the opportunity to visibly and vocally stand up proudly for our marginalized LGTBQ+ community.

Tom always says, “It’s not difficult to do the right thing.” He did the right thing on this day by affirming that hate has no home in Sarasota and gave us hope that we can also speak up for ALL marginalized individuals in our community because WE are the real Sarasota.

Tom Edwards, Project Pride Speech, October 2023

Thank You, Ken (Shelin) for those amazing words and kindness shown for the difficult job I have had defending our students, staff, LGTBQ+, and other marginalized members of our community. I want to thank Project Pride, Jason Champion (Happy Birthday!), and their amazing board for giving me this award and recognizing my work. Most importantly, for giving us ALL the platform to celebrate Pride and to be Proud during these oppressive, hateful times.

I want to thank my husband of 32 years, Nick Ciallelo, for his never-ending undying love and support. He gives me the sounding board and strength to stand up publicly to the small but loud group of extremists in our community, state, and sometimes even the country. I am going to shamelessly mention that I am running for re-election and need your help and support. Please see me, my husband, or any of my volunteers or visit my website, electtomedwards.com, to find out how to make sure I keep my seat.

When Ken and I first met for an outdoor lunch, we were among the first emerging from a worldwide pandemic. We discussed my background and qualifications and the political party headwinds I was facing as a Democrat in a Republican town running for School Board. We did not discuss my sexual orientation. Why? The world had moved on.

If you have noticed, 90% of my press coverage talks about how I am the dissenting vote, or lone moderate, or the voice of reason, and only 10% of the time am I referred to as the Gay school board member, and that is usually when the “Don’t Say Gay Law” is the topic. Why? Because the world has moved on

I stand today on the shoulders of Ken Shelin whose groundbreaking governance paved the way for the community to recognize good qualifications regardless of sexual orientation. That is who Sarasota and the country is. Make sure you thank Ken today when you see him!

Unfortunately, a new brand of hate directed at our community is regarding our Trans brothers and sisters. We must continue to advocate for their rights and dignity.

Who knew when I was a young man on the founding committee for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, working with the minute-by-minute information given by Dr. Fauci regarding the AIDS epidemic that years later, that same Dr. Fauci would be critical in my governance for the protection of my students, staff, and community during the COVID pandemic?

Who knew that when I was advocating for small business in the NY State General Assembly, that hands-on experience prepared me for the political climate I face daily as a School Board member?

A few months ago, someone politely and thankfully told me that the universe put me here for a reason. That feels exactly right to me because all of my life experience has prepared me to stand up against the hate, political rhetoric, and bullying that is thrust at me, our students, and our community.

Now it is your turn! The universe put you here today, in Sarasota, in Florida, at this Pride event to hear these words. Don’t let hate win! Don’t let the loud voices scare you into silence! Don’t be intimidated by small-minded extremist elected officials! Don’t think about leaving Florida because it is too hard here! Because if you do, they win, that is exactly what they want.

Know that you are not LGTBQ+ because you read it in a book or a teacher indoctrinated you.

Know because the extremists wave the American flag and use words like Liberty, that your LGTBQ+ values are American values because YOU understand dignity, kindness, respect, empathy, and acceptance. Know that you are LGTBQ+ because the universe wanted you to be.

Now go be PROUD on the day of PRIDE, and not just today, but EVERY DAY!