A candidate forum hosted by DeLand Pride drew 17 candidates in state and local races — and a big audience to hear them speak — to Abbey Bar in Downtown DeLand. Audience members asked questions of the candidates for three hours in a forum that prioritized issues facing DeLand’s LGBT community.
Some candidates made the July 6 DeLand Pride candidate meet and greet a priority: DeLand City Commissioner Kevin Reid rushed down from dropping his son off in Tallahassee to attend (he only arrived a little late), and DeLand City Commission hopeful Matthew Johnson said he cut a family vacation short to make it to the forum.
DeLand Pride, a nonprofit organization focused on advocating for the city’s LGBT community, invited all 23 candidates in races that could appear on DeLand ballots. In total, 17 candidates came out. They were:
For Florida House
— Rick Karl
For U.S. Congress
— Joe Hannoush
For Volusia County Council
— Barb Girtman
— Jake Johansson
— Sherrise Boyd and
— Andy Kelly
For DeLand City Commission
— Jessica Davis
— Deirdre Perry
— Dan Reed
— Kevin Reid and
— Matthew Johnson
For Volusia County School Board
— Georgann Carnicella
— Al Bouie and
— Ginny-Beth Joiner
And for DeLand mayor
— Chris Cloudman
— Buz Nesbit and
— Reggie Williams
There was no shortage of hot topics to discuss, from the effects of the controversial Parental Rights in Education or “Don’t Say Gay” law to fears that the right to same-sex marriage may be in jeopardy after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on abortion access.
Some took the “pride” in DeLand Pride to heart, like DeLand mayoral candidates Chris Cloudman and Reggie Williams. The two related stories of close friends and family members coming out and how they expressed compassion to them.
But it wasn’t all mushy — viewers, both in-person and online, asked hard-hitting questions.
County Council at-large candidate Johansson was asked how he would push back against a state government that has repeatedly made decisions targeting members of the LGBT community.
Johansson replied by stressing the importance of home rule.
The same member of the audience doubled down.
“I guess the question that a lot in this audience would be interested in, say at the state level they push to ban gay marriage in the state of Florida,” they said. “Will you fight for your constituents and be the bold person — leader — for us to fight for our rights here?”
Johansson’s response was that he would “talk to everybody” and share the constituents’ opinions with people in the state office, some of whom he said he already has a working relationship with.
“You obviously have a thought on which way that should go,” Johansson said, addressing the person asking the question. “And there might be a group of people elsewhere who have the alternate thought.”
After some continued back-and-forth, Johansson conceded that he, personally, was “not opposed to same-sex marriage.”
One audience member asked Volusia County School Board candidate Carnicella how she would protect a child who had confided information about their sexuality or gender identity to her in the wake of recent legislation.
“We have to find out how we’re going to covertly bring in all the stakeholders and wraparound services around this child who maybe didn’t know that everyone was going to find out,” Carnicella responded.
DeLand City Commission candidate Deirdre Perry, a Black woman, was asked by one audience member why she was running against Davis, another Black woman.
When she got onstage herself, Davis joked that the mic was “hot,” and she wasn’t wrong.
Some listeners even asked candidates whether they believed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Candidates Boyd and Cloudman confirmed their faith in election infrastructures, and said that they did not believe the election was stolen.
Turnout — both from candidates and people there to hear them speak — was far greater this year than in 2018, the last time DeLand Pride held a candidate forum, Executive Director Ann-Marie Willacker told The Beacon. The organization even had to turn a few candidates away, like county judges, who are bound by Florida statutes to share little about topics they could potentially rule on, and candidates who were elected to their seats with no contest.
The 2022 candidate forum was also the first the nonprofit livestreamed on Facebook. Just 12 hours after the July 6 debate, the video had more than 500 views. DeLand Pride estimated around 60 people attended the forum in person.
The group intends to continue presenting candidate forums going forward. Closing out the debate, DeLand Pride member and master of ceremonies for the candidate forum Eli Witek said the interest in the event was great to see.
“The amount of interest that we had from candidates who wanted to come here and wanted to say, ‘We see you, and we hear you and we represent you’ is amazing,” Witek said. “It’s a change; it’s a good change.”
The recording of the candidate forum is available to watch on DeLand Pride’s Facebook page, HERE. The Facebook recording cuts off 15 minutes early, and the remainder of the forum can be found on the organization’s Instagram page, HERE.
In addition to the candidate forum, DeLand Pride also published candidates’ answers to an LGBT-centered questionnaire on the group’s website, www.delandpride.org. Click HERE to view the candidates’ answers.