Suncoast Softball League executive shares anti-LGBTQ posts

ABOVE: Suncoast Softball League’s logo via their website.

TAMPA BAY | An executive councilmember of the Suncoast Softball League, Tampa Bay’s largest LGBTQ sports organization, is drawing the ire of some league members for publicly sharing anti-LGBTQ content from his personal social media account.

SSL formed in 1993 to foster “a friendly, competitive and emotionally safe environment for LGBT people in the Tampa Bay area to participate in the sport of softball.” Its mission is to “promote sportspersonship, tolerance and acceptance of gay and lesbian men and women as well as those in our community who are friendly and supportive of our ideals.”

SSL is also a member of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which includes more than 17,000 players throughout the U.S. and Canada. It promotes amateur sports competition “with special emphasis on the participation of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ+) community.”

Each year SSL members elect an executive council to govern the organization. The body currently includes Commissioner Thomas Skiles and Secretary Lonnie Ledford, who won an outstanding service award from SSL in 2012.

In the last month, Ledford has frequently shared content disparaging the transgender community. Specific targets have included Dr. Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender U.S. admiral, as well as University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, the first transgender athlete to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division title.

Ledford has also shared content disparaging opponents of Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education,” legislation more widely known as the state’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who Ledford vocally supports, signed the measure into law March 28.

Once it takes effect July 1, it will prohibit discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and possibly beyond. LGBTQ advocates have already filed suit against the measure.

Watermark has reviewed dozens of public, anti-LGBTQ posts made by Ledford, as well as others containing COVID-19 misinformation and disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement. He deliberately misgenders transgender individuals and refers to those who oppose “Parental Rights in Education” as “groomers,” an anti-LGBTQ trope likening members of the community to pedophiles.

You can view screenshots of some of the content below, which Watermark cautions contains explicit language and anti-LGBTQ content.

Multiple league members have also confirmed the authenticity of Ledford’s posts, sharing that they are in favor of his removal from the executive council.

One former commissioner, an active member of the league for more than a decade speaking under the condition of anonymity, told Watermark that Skiles was advised Ledford was sharing anti-LGBTQ posts before his first and current term as commissioner began. They say the issue was raised to other members of the executive council as well.

“Their excuse seemed to be, ‘I’m friends with him on Facebook but I don’t follow him or see the posts,’” they explain. “It seemed like they were thinking everyone should just unfollow or unfriend him.

“I just want the executive council to do what they’re supposed to do and protect the league,” they continue. “I don’t think that that’s what they’ve done.”

Skiles and Ledford are eligible to continue serving on SSL’s executive council during the league’s 2022-23 season, nominations for which close April 24. The election begins April 26 with results expected May 2.

The former commissioner believes Skiles should retain his position, noting that “he might be getting guidance from others who don’t have his best interests at heart,” but says Ledford has no place on the board.

“When you’re a head of an organization that’s supposed to be saying ‘you can be who you want to be’ and you’re posting stuff like that, it doesn’t stick with our mission statement,” they explain. “We’re supposed to be a safe place to gather and play the sport of softball.”

Michael Richardson, another longtime SSL player and current coach, says he was first made aware of Ledford’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric after being suspended from the league March 24. He was barred from playing for one year after making derogatory remarks about straight women in LGBTQ spaces on his personal social media page.

That prompted multiple players to reach out about Ledford’s social media posts. “I didn’t go searching for any of this stuff,” Richardson explains. “As I was sharing my story about what happened on Facebook, I started getting all of these messages and more and more of it just kept coming out.”

Richardson has issued a public apology for his post but called his suspension hypocritical. In a message to SSL players obtained by Watermark, Ledford detailed a special executive council meeting on March 23 to discuss Richardson’s “demeaning post … towards our female members,” which the secretary noted “in no way represents who we are as an organization.”

Richardson also has other concerns about Ledford. He says two SSL members who were transgender have died by suicide in recent years, Kelly Gartland in 2018 and Dreux Macabenta in 2020.

“I think society probably caused and contributed to that, but I don’t think we’ve taken the supportive measures as a league that we need to,” he explains. “How can this league say they’re presenting a trans-supportive image with a secretary who is regularly posting these types of things? And the commissioner knew about it for more than a year and did nothing.

“I know people are going to think that I’m talking about this because I got in trouble and that’s not it,” Richardson continues. “The Suncoast Softball League got me sober – through the course of softball, it gave me a new focus and a new path. I just care about this league and I want it to do better.”

Watermark reached out to SSL and NAGAAA leadership multiple times regarding Ledford’s anti-LGBTQ content, including directly to Ledford. Only Skiles provided comment, with no response to multiple follow-up questions.

“One of the most wonderful things about Suncoast Softball League is that we are comprised of a group of truly unique individuals from all walks of life,” Skiles said. “We all have our opinions, thoughts and beliefs. Our league is shaped equally by respect for the differences we may have and a passion for the game of softball that we all share.”

Editor’s Note, 04/22/22: Ledford resigned April 21, two days after leadership voted he could retain the position. Read more here.

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