‘Christ is real!’ and gay pride flags mingle as 2 join Orange School board

Orlando Setinel | By Leslie Postal | November 22, 2022

The Orange County School Board swore in its two newest members this month with gay pride flags waving from one side of the room and shouts of “Christ is real!” coming from the other.

County voters elected Maria Salamanca, now the board’s first openly LGBTQ member, and Alicia Farrant, a member of the conservative Moms for Liberty group, on Nov. 8. Both officially took their seats a week later.

Chair Teresa Jacobs and board member Angie Gallo started their second, four-year terms, too.

But Orange’s two newest members offered the most startling contrasts and both, in different ways, alter the make-up of the eight-women board.

Salamanca, 30, who was elected from District 2, which includes east Orlando and Lake Nona, highlighted some that change in an Election Night tweet.

New Orange County School Board members Alicia Farrant, left, and Maria Salamanca stand during swearing-in ceremonies for the Orange County School Board at the Orange County Public Schools administration building on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

“District 2, we made history tonight. Not only did you elect the first LGBTQ+ member of the school board, but you’ve also elected the youngest one, and you’ve sent again the only Latina on the board,” she wrote on Twitter.

An immigrant who moved to the United States from Colombia when she was 7, Salamanca takes the seat held by Johanna Lopez, the board’s first Latina member. Lopez stepped down to run for a seat in the Florida House, which she won.

Farrant, 42, was elected from District 3, which includes neighborhoods just south of downtown Orlando and runs south to the county line. She replaces board member Linda Kobert, who did not seek re-election.

“Today was divinely appointed by God!” Farrant wrote on Facebook after the swearing-in ceremony, which featured her husband giving the invocation and her five children in attendance.

Jacobs, Orange County’s former mayor, and Gallo, a longtime school and Florida PTA volunteer, both won second terms easily during the August primary. Farrant and Salamanca did not win outright majorities in crowded primary races so moved to runoffs on the November ballot, where both won.

Jacobs said she knows the board members in coming months will have different opinions on various issues they face.

“I think that the difference is a strength and not a weakness,” Jacobs said. “I think that our ability to listen to people who see things differently gives us an opportunity to learn and grow.”

She added that she felt confident all board members will focus on providing an excellent education for OCPS students and will keep that a priority even if they end up on the losing side of a vote.

“We still respect each other, and we still come back to the next meeting ready to take on the fight again,” she added.

Salamanca, a partner in a venture capital firm “dedicated to investing in immigrant entrepreneurs,” is a graduate of Timber Creek High School in east Orange who went to college and then worked in California before moving back to Orlando in 2020.

“I stand here today as the a product of the village that raised me, Orange County Public Schools,” she said during the ceremony, witnessed by her former high school principal and debate teacher as well as other cheering supporters, some in gay pride T-shirts and waving rainbow flags.

OCPS teachers taught her English, recognized her academic gifts and propelled her to success, Salamanca said. Her debate teacher, she added, gave “a kid like me the the tools and language to stand here before you today as an elected official.”

During her campaign she promised voters she’d work to ensurethe same for other children.

“They have trusted me to protect so much of what is good in our schools and to push us so we can do better for the students who follow in my footsteps,” she said, “and I hope to make you all proud.”

Farrant, 42, who runs a Christian ministry with her husband, started attending school board meetings to argue against face mask rules during the pandemic and then to push for the removal of library books she viewed as inappropriate.

She is a member of Moms for Liberty, the group founded in Florida that quickly became the darling of the GOP, backing several culture-war and parental rights laws the party pushed in Tallahassee. Farrant appeared at a press event in March with Gov. Ron DeSantis when he signed legislation heightening scrutiny of books in school libraries and classrooms.

“I am not a career politician but a mom with a servant’s heart,” she said during her public remarks.

Her supporters, at least one in a Moms for Liberty shirt, cheered her on, one shouting “Christ is real!” and “God Bless, America!” and “Christians live!”

Farrant’s campaign was a grass roots effort fueled by “ordinary people ready for change” and those willing to “fight for the freedoms of our great nation,” she said.

“We the people rose up. We we saw a need to be represented and to secure our education system,” Farrant said. “I rallied together a small group of patriots and together we have accomplished so much.”

She credited her election to God and said, “I am here to unite as well as protect every child who walks through the doors of our schools each day.”

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