A group of LGBTQ+ protestors who attended a Ron DeSantis presidential event on Monday say they were physically abused by staff and attendees after they held up a rainbow flag during the candidate’s speech.
More than 800 people reportedly attended the event held at the Philip T. Glennon Community Center in Tega Cay, South Carolina, according to The Charlotte Observer.
Two of the three activists who reported being abused at the event were Claire Jost and Will Sander, both 19 years old and from the Charlotte area, and spoke to Newsweek about what they experienced. The third member, Sander’s 16-year-old sister, did not want to be interviewed by the news outlet.
Jost, who identifies as queer, and Sander said they attended because they wanted to stand up for what they believe in. They had reserved tickets ahead of time and said they arrived well before DeSantis took the stage.
They describe fellow attendees as “very polite until we pulled out our flags.”
During the event, the group stood up and pulled out a pair of Pride flags when DeSantis begun his speech.
Video taken during the altercation shows a tussle between Jost, Sander and members of the crowd and DeSantis’ staff, prior to the pair being escorted out of the event.
A protester waving a rainbow flag was physically removed from a Ron DeSantis campaign event in NC. As he was escorted out, DeSantis yells: "LEAVE OUR KIDS ALONE!"#RonDeSantis #LGBTQ pic.twitter.com/MgrMBYQaOS
— TheGailyGrind 🏳️🌈 (@thegailygrind) July 18, 2023
“I remember when we held up the flag, someone grabbed me on the shoulder,” Jost said. “I turned around, I’m being surrounded. They’re shouting everywhere. People are yelling, ‘Shame on you, shame on you’ and trying to take it away from me.
“I felt someone grab me from behind and, like, multiple people were trying to push me to the ground. I got kicked; I actually have some small bruises. I’m glad I wore heavy pants.”
Photos provided by Jost to Newsweek, which were requested not to be published, showed multiple bruises on her legs. Newsweek said they could not verify the source of the bruises.
Media outlet Florida Politics reported that some of the people who grabbed at the rainbow flag were Moms for Liberty members.
Once DeSantis became aware of the protest, he reportedly injected the culture wars and “woke ideology.”
“We don’t want you indoctrinating our children!” DeSantis shouted, according to The Post and Courier, as attendees stood and raucously cheered. “Leave those kids alone.”
Jost described it as “such an excessive use of force.” Sander said he was kicked by others and “violently dragged down stairs.”
“These are my neighbors,” said Sander. “I’ve lived in this community since I was in second grade. I know several of them personally. I’ve spoken with them…like, it’s kind of horrifying to see how quickly you’re dehumanized.”
“His sister, who is in a wheelchair, was also escorted from the room. Sander claimed that staffers allegedly insisted that she get out of her wheelchair and walk before a local sheriff pushed her out of the vicinity,” reports Newsweek.
Jost and Sander called DeSantis’ words regarding children empty rhetoric, “hypocritical and superficial” as they were forced to leave.
“The thing that we want to emphasize is the reaction to what we did because we have a Pride flag, which ostensibly is not political, right,” Sander said. “It’s an identity. If we were effectively dragged out and kicked and cursed out by this mob and if it had been an American flag, the reaction would have been entirely different.”
He added: “I know a lot of DeSantis voters, they seem to be good Christian people. This is a family neighborhood. But how quickly those same people were willing to turn against children that they’ve watched grow up in their neighborhood, just because they held a Pride flag.”