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Tampa transgender woman qualifies to run for state House seat 

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Tampa transgender woman qualifies to run for state House seat 

Jun 15, 2024 | 3:14 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
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Tampa transgender woman qualifies to run for state House seat聽
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HD 65 Democratic candidate Ashley Brundage at the WMNF studio in Tampa on June 14, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Perry/Florida Phoenix)

The Florida Democratic Party boasted as candidate qualifying closed Friday that for the first time since the state Legislature flipped red three decades ago, it has a Democrat running for every state House and Senate district.

That includes Hillsborough County’s 65th House District, where Ashley Brundage hopes to make history by becoming the first transgender person elected to serve in Tallahassee.

“While I’m going to be making history on something like me and my personal life, which really has no impact on anything, but what I think is even more history-making is that I used to be the DEI person for PNC Bank and 60,000 employees as their national president of diversity, equity, inclusion,” she said on Friday, speaking on WMNF 88.5 FM radio in Tampa (on a show which this reporter participated in).

Yes, that’s right. If running as a transgender woman isn’t cutting enough against the established conservative grain in Florida politics in 2024, then touting her credentials as the “DEI candidate” certainly is.

“Florida is where DEI goes to die … ,” Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote on X in March, responding to a report that the University of Florida was eliminating all diversity, equity, and inclusion employee positions to comply with new Florida Board of Governors regulations.

That board defines DEI as “any program, campus activity, or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.”

Brundage says her history as vice president of DEI at PNC Bank as well as her work with her own small business, Empowering Differences, which does diversity, equity, and inclusion training for companies, has shown her the benefits of such programs.

“Inclusion also shouldn’t be scary,” she said.

“Because inclusion is literally the opportunity for us to learn and grow as people. And that’s what every program I’ve ever built that had DEI in mind, was an opportunity for someone to learn about a community, and then go and sell more goods and services to make more money from that community,” Brundage continued.

“And that’s what happened when I became a part-time bank teller at PNC Bank while I was homeless, living in Tampa. I showed up on day one and, ultimately, I started building relationships in my community, and I started bringing those people to bank at PNC Bank. Because it wasn’t people they were literally marketing to immediately. So, by them practicing diversity, I became the number-one revenue producing employee for three straight years out of all of the entire bank around the country.”

Representing Tampa

Tampa transgender woman qualifies to run for state House seat聽
Rep. Marilyn Gonzalez Pittman via Florida House

House District 65 encompasses most of South and downtown Tampa, as well as a portion of northwest Hillsborough County, and has been held since 2022 by Republican Marilyn Gonzalez Pittman, who succeeded Republican Jackie Toledo.

It’s a seat that breaks down as 39% Republican, 31% Democratic, and 30% NPA (non-party-affiliated) and other third-party registered voters as of Feb. 20, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Brundage calls those NPA voters “the secret sauce to our win.”

“And the Republicans are scared about that, because they’ve been running on all of these issues that are all about scaring people and hurting our economy long term,” she said, adding that she’s running on issues such as lowering the cost of property insurance, getting the government out of making decisions about people’s bodies, and economic empowerment for small businesses.

Brundage is running in a state not considered friendly to the LGBTQ community, to say the least. Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida has been a leader in passing anti-LGBTQ laws. One of those laws, banning minors from receiving gender-affirming health care, was struck down by a federal judge in Tallahassee earlier this week.

The day after that decision, DeSantis predicted in Tampa that the state would win its appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. “This has already been decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. They upheld Alabama’s law, which was almost identical to Florida’s law. This will be reversed. There’s no question it will be reversed,” the governor said.

Community award

Brundage received a “Spirit of the Community Award” for her work from the Florida Commission on the Status of Women two years ago. While DeSantis did not attend the awards ceremony in West Palm Beach, he did sign a letter telling her to “keep up the great work!”

Brundage said on Friday that the governor didn’t initially respond to media inquiries about why he had given tribute to a transgendered woman until she announced in April that she was running for a legislative seat and his team responded to the U.K. Daily Mail.

The publication wrote that “a source close to DeSantis told Daily.Mail.com that the commendation was bestowed because the governor’s team was under the impression that Brundage was a biological female. When it was revealed that was not the case, the congratulation letter was removed from the governor’s website.”

Brundage doesn’t believe that. “If he had read the actual nomination before signing the letter, he would have known” about her transgender status, she said.

Brundage is not the Democratic candidate for HD 65 yet, as she faces a primary challenge from Nathan Kuipers in the Aug. 20 primary. Gonzalez Pittman hasn’t drawn an opponent in her primary and will face the winner of the Brundage-Kuipers race on Nov. 5.

Note: Ashley Brundage spoke Friday on WMNF’s “The Skinny” program, for which this reporter is a co-host.