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Patty Sheehan was born on July 6, 1961, in Cleveland, Ohio. Raised in a deeply conservative Catholic family, she remembers telling a friend at age 16 that she had a horrible secret to reveal. “What,” her friend asked, “did you kill someone?” “It’s even worse,” Patty replied. “I’m gay.”
 
To make matters worse, Patty’s parents suffered from addiction issues. At 10, her life turned upside down when the family uprooted from Cleveland to move to Florida, right around the same time that Patty’s favorite grandmother died. By age 17, Patty was out on her own, with drinking problem of her own, and a suicide attempt under her belt. She was determined, tough, and unhappy. By age 21, she had her own house, but she wasn’t out of the wood yet. There were more brushes with suicide as well as immersion and escape from a conversion therapy program. Sobriety and solid mental health were still on the distant horizon, but meantime, Patty had work to do.
 
Patty attended Seminole State College and the University of Central Florida, where she earned her BA in Art. In 1996, she ran for Orlando City Council for the first time, missing the run-off by just 75 votes. Four years later, she ran again, winning 54% of the votes to defeat the incumbent, and becoming the first openly gay elected official in central Florida. In 2013, on the heels of a bad break-up, Patty was finally able to get sober. In 2019, she was elected to a sixth term on the City Council. Along the way, she has survived several redistricting programs that made her district more and more conservation. Today, Patty reigns as Orlando’s longest-serving City Councilmember, and has been recognized multiple times by the Orlando Weekly and Orlando Magazine as the city’s most effective elected official.
 
In the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016, Patty displayed courageous leadership, helping to raise $34 million which was used to help the victims, survivors, and their families. She became personally acquainted with 38 of the 49 families who lost loved ones in the massacre, providing them with comfort and logistical support. 
 
Patty enjoys many outdoor activities including gardening, paddle boarding, painting, pottery, and glassblowing. She is a passionate artist who has used her position to promote arts and culture in Orlando. She is a multitalented artist whose “Bad Kitty” paintings are exhibited in local restaurants, shops, and clubs. Today, she lives in a 1928 bungalow in downtown Orlando with her rescue dog Sienna, a diva kitty named Nina Simone, and Peep, Cheep and Bleep (her mini-flock of urban chickens).
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Okay, do me a favor. Start out by stating and spelling your first and last name.
Patty Sheehan: Sure. It's Patty Sheehan. P-A-T-T-Y S-H-E-E-H-A-N. I'm the City Commissioner in Orlando, Florida. I'm the first openly gay elected official in central Florida.
Mason Funk: Excellent. And where were you born and on what date?
Patty Sheehan: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio July 6, 1961. I'm 58 years old. Yes, you've outed me now! My parents dragged me kicking and screaming here. We were living in the rust belt and jobs were kind of scarce.
Patty Sheehan: [00:00:30] My father sold building supplies. So he came down here to sell building supplies to Disney, Epcot and Marco Island in 1971. So that's when we came down here, was for better life, a better opportunity. I hated Florida. I was used to going to the symphony and going to Preservation Hall, these elegant places. And I loved the arts. I loved the museums. And I was like, Florida?! I remember we went to the
Patty Sheehan: [00:01:00] Stanford Civic Center to listen to the Orlando Symphony play on terrazzo floors and I thought I died and gone to hell! And now as a City Commissioner I get to, I got to approve a performing arts center that's one of the state of the arts in the world. So it's kind of interesting how the trajectory of your life can come about full circle where here was something that I loved and enjoyed where I lived before as a child. And now I'm getting to provide that for other children, it's kind of a fulfilling thing for me.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] That's cool. Now tell us about being raised. You referred to kind of a conservative Catholic family. Tell us about that.
Patty Sheehan: Yes, I was raised by a, in a conservative Catholic family. And the interesting thing, my father was a very, very rabid Republican. My mother was an Independent. My mother is an Independent. Actually she finally voted Democratic, which I thought was kind of interesting. That was a change for her because she always prided herself on being an Independent. But now that she's a senior and needs access to things like prescription drugs she's kind of shifted her feelings on things a little bit. But yeah, very conservative Catholic.
Patty Sheehan: [00:02:00] I went through all the Sacraments and everything like that. And so when I, I was very uncomfortable with coming out because I knew it wouldn't be accepted. I remember when I came out to one of my friends when I was 16 I said, "There's something really horrible I have to tell you." And she goes, "What? What's so horrible?" She goes, "What, did you kill somebody?" I said, "No, I'm gay." I said, "It's even worse, I'm gay." And I think back on thinking that way myself, thinking that it was worse to be gay than to kill someone. And I always refer to myself as openly gay rather than lesbian.
Patty Sheehan: [00:02:30] The interesting thing is that when I first ran for office we did some polling and they said that people wouldn't vote for a lesbian but they would vote for someone who was openly gay. So I just kind of stuck with it. But yeah-
Mason Funk: Wait, say that again because I didn't understand. They would or wouldn't vote for-
Patty Sheehan: They would not vote for a lesbian, but they would vote for someone who was openly gay. So weve always referred to me as openly gay as opposed to lesbian because it polled better. Hey, sometimes you got to go with the flow!
Patty Sheehan: [00:03:00] But yeah, it was really hard for me growing up. I mean I didn't, of course, didn't feel supported. My grandmother was the closest person to me in my life. She died when I was 10 right before we moved here. So there was just this level of upheaval in coming to a new place that I felt was even less accepting than being in Cleveland. And I just remember kind of feeling lost. I did try to commit suicide as a young person. And so, and I've shared my story with It Gets Better
Patty Sheehan: [00:03:30] because I think it's important for young LGBTQ people to understand that it does get better. And I remember being disappointed that I woke up for work because I tried to overdose, and I remember being disappointed that I woke up for work the next morning. Now when I was younger I really had to start working very early. My parents had substance abuse problems. My father had a hard time keeping that job. So I had to start going to work at a really, really young age and helping pay the bills basically.
Patty Sheehan: [00:04:00] So I was working at a nursery because it was agriculture and child labor laws didn't apply. So from 13 years old on I started working and helping my parents with their bills. By the time I was 21 I had my own house, but the interesting thing was that I was already completely, I left home at 17. My parents and I, we just finally, I just had enough mainly because I was having to work so hard. They weren't accepting,
Patty Sheehan: [00:04:30] I was drinking too much, I was a wild child. I decided I needed to leave, and I did. I ended up being a really good thing for me to do even though at 17 it's hard to find housing. But I had my first house by the time I was 21 years old. So I had to grow up fast.
Mason Funk: Were you the only child?
Patty Sheehan: No, I have two sisters. And I'm the oldest. But it was kind of a survival thing because the environment that we were in was so bad. My father was the most abusive to me. He did not beat my sisters or anything like that.
Patty Sheehan: [00:05:00] I stood between him beating my mother one time and then I kind of became a punching bag. And my parents divorced when I was 16, but things kind of didn't get any better. And I just had to kind of leave home. I got my own counseling. I started, I decided I had to put my life back together. So I'd say to young people going through a rough time don't be afraid to get help. Reach out into the resources that are available to you. And it really does get better because I went from being completely suicidal
Patty Sheehan: [00:05:30] to now I have such an amazing life that I can't imagine if I had been successful the times I tried to kill myself. How sad that would have been because how many things I would have missed.
Mason Funk: Was it multiple times you tried to take your life?
Patty Sheehan: Yeah. One time I put a gun to my head and thank God I didn't do that. So yeah, it was just a really hard time.
Mason Funk: This is roughly what age range?
Patty Sheehan: The gun situation was when I was in my 20s. Like I said, I was just having a really hard time adjusting. I think a lot of it came from my religious upbringing.
Patty Sheehan: [00:06:00] Plus I was trying, I am also an exodus survivor I call it. I went through the Pray the Gay Away, which was also, made things even worse for me because I had gotten some counseling, kind of gotten myself together and then I decided I was going to do the Pray the Gay Away thing.
Mason Funk: Tell us more about that. What-
Patty Sheehan: It's a program called Eleuthros. It's a division of Exodus International. And the idea was that I was to go through an exorcism
Patty Sheehan: [00:06:30] where the spirit of homosexuality will leave my body in an orange mucous, which I thought was really weird. And I actually kind of got in trouble the first time because I've always been a feminist. I've always studied female religions and things like that and always been attracted to finding out about the patriarchy and how women have been treated and everything like that. I've always kind of had an interest in women's studies and all that. So when they told me at church that ancient female religions
Patty Sheehan: [00:07:00] like witchcraft were this huge problem I said, "No, they quoted that Betty Friedan was talking about the ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and Sumer." Let's just say that was not accepted well in this situation that I was in. So I was literally picked up by both arms, dragged out while everyone started speaking in tongues. And I was told that I couldn't come back until I was properly exorcized. And the woman that was supposed to do the exorcism ended up having a miscarriage so it didn't happen, which is really weird.
Patty Sheehan: [00:07:30] So the people that I was staying with at the time, that was part of the reason I was doing it because I was 17. I lived in their barn and mowed their acreage while I was trying to find some housing after I got kicked out of my house. They asked me, "Why are you doing this?" And I'm like, "Well I'm doing it for you all." And they said, "Well it won't work." And so I, they said, "But if you don't change you're going to have to go."
Patty Sheehan: [00:08:00] And I said, "Well you know what? I think it's time for me to go," because I was finally 18 by then. I found another place to stay. I rented a house with some other women for a while. Finally got to a point where I could rent my own place. But again, if you're a young kid and you're 17 and you don't have a credit rating it's hard to get established. So that's why I have so much compassion for the zebra kids. There are LGBTQ youth who have been displaced and they're homeless and it is important that we support these young people because I was one of them.
Mason Funk: [00:08:30] Yeah. Sounds like you lived through pretty much through every possible area of difficulty whether it was suicide alley, depression, Pray the Gay Away, substance abuse.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah, I got to check that box. But the one thing I will say though is that even though I really struggled with depression and everything like that I really do feel you can rewire your thinking. Something that I had learned as I was going through recovery and something
Patty Sheehan: [00:09:00] that affects a lot of LGBTQ people is that we're told so many horrible things about ourselves. And I think it kind of gets stuck in your brain. I was reading somewhere that this negativity can actually change the way that you're thinking process happens and actually changes your cerebral cortex, but that you can rewire that by replacing that with good thoughts. And I remember when I first got sober I was reading some books about being overly critical, and I can't remember the names of some of them,
Patty Sheehan: [00:09:30] but it was about not being so critical. I remember this book said every time you have a negative thought about yourself write, hashtag down. And I was horrified in the course of a couple of hours how many hashtags I had written down. And I'm like, wow! I am really saying negative things about myself. So I had to rethink about how I thought about everything. And it actually really helped me, I think, rewire my cerebral cortex to where I'm a much more positive human being,
Patty Sheehan: [00:10:00] a positive person. What I had to got through getting sober and all that, but I think I was bred for substance abuse. I mean my parents have a lot of issues, you know? And so if there was ever anyone who was going to have those kinds of problems it was going to be me.
Mason Funk: Now interestingly, and we're kind of jumping back and forth in your timeline, but you-
Patty Sheehan: What should I tell you?
Mason Funk: -got sober six years ago. Good, we'll just go with the flow!
Patty Sheehan: I don't do, yeah, linear. I'm an artist. What can I say?
Mason Funk: [00:10:30] Right. Cool. Tom was very much like we literally went from [crosstalk].
Patty Sheehan: I'm not Tom.
Mason Funk: Okay, so you got sober six years ago.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah.
Mason Funk: But in the mean time you'd already been a, what's the term again? Not a council member.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah. I was on City Council. I was elected 20 years ago. So yeah, I was drinking during the time. The interesting thing that I've really learned after getting sober is how much my conflict with people when I'm in public has gone down
Patty Sheehan: [00:11:00] because I just don't engage like I used to and argue with people. It's just not a good use of either one of our times. I tell them to send me an email when they're not so angry or sad or whatever. And now I can walk away if someone's acting a little crazy. But yeah, it was just that engaging and coping with difficult situations and using that as a lubricant. And I learned that, and I thought that's how I learn how to deal with things even from a young age.
Patty Sheehan: [00:11:30] You deal with happiness by drinking. You deal with sadness by drinking. So I had to figure out, okay, how do I deal with all these emotions and everything like that without this. And that was the hardest thing for me was to even be able to feel because I think a lot of times these things will numb you. And of course I think it numbed me because I was dealing with this critical thinking, thinking I was bad because I was gay. All these kinds of things. And which, by the way, are not true. There's nothing wrong with being LGBTQ wonderful, happy, effervescent person.
Patty Sheehan: [00:12:00] Some of the wonderful people I know are non-binary and not afraid to experience who they are. I just lost one of my 84 year old straight friends who loved to wear dresses. He was an artist, a happy soul. Why can't we just be accepting. And these people are so angry. And religious people are so into their little gender, roles and being so strict and everything like that they're missing out on so much happiness and creativity and just being. They'd be so much happier, I think, if they'd just be accepting.
Mason Funk: [00:12:30] What was it that triggered your decision to get sober? Because by now you're in your 50s.
Patty Sheehan: Well-
Mason Funk: And you're successful.
Patty Sheehan: To most people looking from the outside I was successful, but of course I'd been in a very bad relationship, which ended. And of course I dealt with it by going into the bottle. And my rebound person that I got involved with ended up being such a drunk train wreck that I took her to AA meetings
Patty Sheehan: [00:13:00] because I said I can't live like this. And I got to listening to what was happening and I thought you know, a lot of this applies to me. And the interesting thing is we ended up breaking up and she tried to go to rehab and she never got sober and I did. So she ended up doing me a favor. So yeah, through a relationship and unfortunately I haven't been in a relationship since then because I really have kind of wanted to concentrate on me. And the other thing was when Pulse happened that just over,
Patty Sheehan: [00:13:30] that just completely took over my life for the past three years. And then I had to start concentrating on campaigning so I really haven't had a lot of personal time. But that's okay. I think sometimes you just need time with yourself and I'm happier than I've ever been. And we'll see what happens.
Mason Funk: Okay. Good, now we're going to jump back and forth.
Patty Sheehan: Sure.
Mason Funk: We'll get back up there again. Of course, we're going to talk about the Pulse. Let me see. I have some of the things I want ... So I am curious. You did become an activist early on.
Patty Sheehan: [00:14:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: How did that happen?
Patty Sheehan: The first thing I started getting really involved in, in terms of activism was with clinic defense. It was something that really bugged me in terms of when I was with the Evangelical Church was I always disagreed with their stands on abortion. I've always felt that a woman's right to choose is important and then I would see these women have babies and then they wouldn't support them. It was like make sure you get the baby born, but then just completely abandon it and not care about it from that point.
Patty Sheehan: [00:14:30] And I always thought that was very hypocritical from the people that I saw in church. So I was part of clinic defense.
Mason Funk: What was clinic defense?
Patty Sheehan: Clinic defense was actually kind of insane when I think back on it was the people, the religious people were bombing abortion shelters and we would go in there to try and keep them from bombing the abortion shelters. And when I think about it well Right to Life, they're bombing abortion shelters and we're putting ourselves in harms way. How insane is that, but we did it. We did clinic defense, which was to basically spend the night in the abortion clinic.
Mason Funk: How was that going to help?
Patty Sheehan: [00:15:00] In our, I had friends that were in the movement and they just thought that it was important to have somebody there so that the clinic wouldn't be a target. I think back on it now and I go that was pretty crazy. But it's what we did, you know? It was, we felt as women that was the only thing that we could do. But you have to also remember at that point in time it's not like you could call the police and they were supportive. It's not like you could hire off duty and they would be supportive. The problem is that a lot of
Patty Sheehan: [00:15:30] the situations with law enforcement and all that were not conducive to protecting women, to protecting children, to protecting LGBTQ people. It's changed a lot, thank God, in the last 25, 30 years. But back then it wasn't like that. So that's how I originally started out. And then-
Mason Funk: A couple more questions. One of the things we do, I feel like we're capturing social history. And so tell me a bit more, so clinic defense was a kind of a strategy.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:16:00] Was it being employed in various places around the country?
Patty Sheehan: It was pretty big here because we had a lesbian who actually owned an abortion clinic.
Mason Funk: So tell me, start by saying here in central Florida clinic defense was big because.
Patty Sheehan: Here in central Florida clinic defense was big because we actually had a lesbian who owned the abortion clinic. And one of the few ones that were around and I got to know Patty Martin very well. And so that's kind of how I got involved with NOW (National Organization for Women) too. So it was kind of like an overlap of clinic defense and a lesbian who owned an abortion clinic.
Patty Sheehan: [00:16:30] And then she kind of started introducing me to people around the lesbian community. And there was a group called the Loving Committed Network (LCN) that was the lesbian group. And there was separatism at the time and the guys get kind of mad when I talk about it. I'm like, "You don't understand because we were oppressed by men." So a lot of women needed that women's only space. It's not that we hated men. And they called us men haters, blah, blah, blah. It's not that. It was like we had our women's only space to kind of get us to a place
Patty Sheehan: [00:17:00] where we could talk about women's empowerment and all that and kind of have our own time. I wasn't against the guys. And at the time the men and the women in the community really didn't get along. The guys were kind of being mean and they called us fish. That could kind of be difficult, but then the AIDS crisis hit. Here we have, you have the division between the men and the women. You had the women kind of doing clinic defense and doing their thing. And kind of doing their female empowerment stuff and kind of being separate. And then the AIDS epidemic hit. And then the drag queens started getting sick first.
Patty Sheehan: [00:17:30] And the lesbians started taking in the drag queens, which was such an interesting thing because they were friends with the drag queens and they kept helping take care of them. But people didn't live long at that point in time. People were dying within six months. So there's this really fascinating way of us coming together out of this horrible death and destruction. Of course, I remember by the time I was 25 and 30 I lost half of my male friends to AIDS. And they were dying quickly.
Patty Sheehan: [00:18:00] I mean it got so bad by the time my friend Chuck Hummer died I just couldn't go to one more funeral I was so depressed. And that was a depression that was based in losing people and feeling completely powerless to what they called gay related immune deficiency at first because nobody knew what it was and how it was caused. And I lost my political mentor. I mean that was the other thing with, first it was the women's movement, then it was the LGBTQ movement. And then I started meeting, and then the AIDS movement. And then I met my friend Steve Meunier
Patty Sheehan: [00:18:30] who ended up taking me to the Rainbow Democratic Club meetings and we're formulating this new group of LGBTQ people that were trying to do political activism. And unfortunately my friend Steve, he was my mentor, he was so brilliant. I mean he knew everything about politics. I just loved him. And he was one of the first people I lost. And one of the last things that I did, when I ran the first time for office in 1996, it was after he had gotten sick, and he, one of the last things that day was pin one of my campaign buttons
Patty Sheehan: [00:19:00] on his hospital gown right before he passed. So that, I'll always miss Steve. He'll always be with me. He will always, he's always been a driving force. And when you lose, I've lost a lot of really good people between AIDS, breast cancer and everything like that. I've lost amazing people. So the way that I cope with that is I try to take the best parts of their character and try to weave it in within my own because he was such an activist and ballsy.
Patty Sheehan: [00:19:30] And he was also raised conservative Catholic. And they refused, at his funeral, to recognize who he was. And I did kind of a ballsy thing at his funeral. I talked about him being a proud gay man and how he wore his red shoes. And when his friends cleaned out his place they gave me his shoes because he would wear crazy, and I wear crazy shoes also. That's part of Steve. Steve Meunier this is how I love you.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] So he's the one who ignited in you the idea of actually public service in the form of running for office?
Patty Sheehan: Yeah, I had gone to a Rainbow Democratic Club meeting and they said, "You know, we've kind of done some," because we'd been out doing a lot of voter registration. And we kind of keep track of it and how many people we registered in the community. And the Rainbow people came over to me and said, "You know, Carol Bartsch, Ted Manes,"
Patty Sheehan: [00:20:30] I think Tom was involved with the Rainbows originally too. They said, "You know we only need 700 votes to win a City Council race and we've got 500 people we've identified. And we could maybe win this race." And I said, "Well that's kind of crazy." This is 1996. And I'd just moved downtown. I used to live in Volusia County. I was harassed terribly. Men were leaving porn on my doorstep with two women and a man. I was getting threatening letters. I just couldn't live there anymore. My first house is in Deltona and it was not a good place for a young gay person to be.
Patty Sheehan: [00:21:00] So I got my down payment back, sold that house, came here. And I've been in this house 26 years, but I'd just moved downtown and they said, "You should run." And I said, "Well what? You want me to be your sacrificial lamb?" Because it was crazy. In 1996 this was not the place to be overly gay or anything like that. And I had even been almost demoted at work. I mean I was demoted at work because I'd gotten to march on Washington. I said, "Gee thanks guys." But at that point in time I had a more supportive boss
Patty Sheehan: [00:21:30] and I knew the Commissioner of Agriculture who I worked for personally. And I thought, you know what? He gave you permission to run. I checked with my employer. I thought you know what? And after having gone through the demotion and all like that I said, "You know what? There needs to be rights and protections for gay people. And I can make a difference if I'm actually in elected office." So I told my friends. I said, "I want commitments that you all will help me pay the filing fee at least because I don't want to not do this.
Patty Sheehan: [00:22:00] If I'm doing this, we're doing this." So they said okay. I had financial commitments. Of course, I couldn't raise the money then. I went down and filed to run for office. And then we did it. We threw it together in about four or five months. And I was 75 votes away from making the runoff. And a closeted lesbian ended up making it to the runoff. Used my sexuality against me in the race. And she ended up getting outed. Fascinating!
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] Wow! Tell us that story. That's kind of just a good-
Patty Sheehan: I have to tell you it was so crazy because of course I ... In the 1996 race half of the candidates were gay and I was the only one who was honest and open about it. There was a lesbian, there was a gay man and there was me. And everybody wanted to ask about the LGBTQ issue. They didn't want to ask about the Historic Preservation, brick streets, tandem housing, any of the neighborhood issues that I actually knew a lot about.
Patty Sheehan: [00:23:00] They didn't want to talk about that. It was always about that. We're at a Candidate Forum in the Audubon Park Covenant Church and they asked that question, they're asking regular questions. I'm a recovering Catholic. I'm on the altar. I'm freaking out. We don't do that, Catholics don't get on the altar. There were candidates, we have all the candidates around the altar.
Patty Sheehan: [00:23:30] And they say, "Should candidates make an issue of their sexual orientation? Should candidates flaunt their sexual orientation?" This minister asked this question. And this other person goes first and he says, "Well I have a wife and I have a child, but I don't think anybody should flaunt their sexual orientation." Of course, he didn't get what he just said. So I get up there next and I say, "You know, when my opponent talks about his life. It's charming. When I talk about my life it's flaunting. That's not fair." And my friend, Carol Bartsch,
Patty Sheehan: [00:24:00] she was in the front row said she almost fainted. She said, "I couldn't believe how you handled that." I'm like, "Sometimes I just don't even know where the wisdom comes from. It just does." It's a conduit sometimes I think. And the interesting thing was they were so, 150 people in that room got it. I mean it was basically education for them. And the minister and a lot of the people that were in church actually followed me out and apologized afterward.
Patty Sheehan: [00:24:30] And so even though I lost that first race narrowly, and that's the thing. If I had lost bad I wouldn't have gone back for more. But 75 votes is a, that's close, you know? And so then it was an open seat that first time that I ran. The second time I was running against the incumbent who wasn't very responsive. They asked him to ride in the Pride Parade. Of course, he did it, but then we didn't get anything out of him in terms or working for LGBTQ equality. And so I said, "You know I'm going to try this again. This time I'm going to really keep at this for the next four years,"
Patty Sheehan: [00:25:00] which I did. And I beat him with 54% of the vote. I pushed him to a runoff. And then I beat him with 54% of the vote. I remember one City Council member said, "We need a recount!" And the Supervisor of Elections says, "We don't do a recount on four points. She won this fair and square. Leave her alone." And then the interesting thing was that after making it gay candidate, gay candidate, gay candidate, even on election day, gay candidate on the ballot. When I won nobody wanted to come cover it.
Patty Sheehan: [00:25:30] And my friend who was handling my media was so pissed. He's like, "Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay until the gay person wins!" And so the only person who would send anybody at the time, my friend Wendy Chioji who just passed with breast cancer, was over at Channel 2. And she was an anchor. And they sent Shannon Hori over to interview me. That was the only station that would interview me was Channel 2. Yeah. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:26:00] Great stuff. Okay, let me check where I'm at. It's so nuts. I just love the nitty gritty of this local office. Okay, so now you've been in office for 20 years, almost 20 years.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah. And people say, "She needs to go!" Why? If you're a brain surgeon you do that for 20 years do you want someone who just got out of medical school? And my constituents are telling me. They go, "What are we going to do if you ever leave?" Some folks don't like me. It's usually if I don't do what they want.
Patty Sheehan: [00:26:30] All politics is local unless you do exactly what I want I'm going to vote against you. It is what it is, but for the most part I'm feeling that, I'm hearing that people are pretty happy. And I love what I do. The most rewarding for being in office for a long time is being able to see the difference. In 2002, we started with protections just for city employees from non-discrimination protections just for the people that work for us. Then in 2003 I believe it was, we did citywide protections. And that's when we had the eight hours of testimony from all the religious people and it was awful.
Patty Sheehan: [00:27:00] And we did pass citywide protections, but it was a four/three split. And I lost the Mayor because she was going to get appointed by the Governor, the Republican Governor for something so she changed her vote, which cost me two other City Commissioners. And it was literally a seesaw. And I'm freaking out. I'm like, oh my God, we're about to go to vote on this and I don't know if I've got enough votes. Because the thing with, people don't realize the thing with politics you got to be able to count.
Patty Sheehan: [00:27:30] And in my case I've got to count to four. And I was counting four and I was freaking out because I wasn't sure about my fourth. And so I posted a meeting, Sunshine Law posted a meeting with my fourth vote that I was really freaked out about and he says, "If you don't take transgender out of this we're not going to go." And I'm like, damn it! And I talked to the activists. I said, "Okay, what should we do? Are we going to do all or nothing?" And we had to make a Solomons decision. At least transgender people had some protections under ADA at the time,
Patty Sheehan: [00:28:00] which LGB people had none. So we decided to go ahead and go with LGB and add T in later. So we added T in 2008, thank God. I did not die, but most of the stuff was, actually no. It was 2003 because Mayor Dyer wasn't here yet. Okay, now I'm remembering. This was when Glenda was still there, Glenda Hood. So it was 2002 and then 2003. And we were one, I mean yeah,
Patty Sheehan: [00:28:30] you had San Francisco and some of the other places like that of course, but in the south we were on the cutting edge here. So yeah, so we added T in later, thank God. I mean I feel really bad. I caught a lot of crap from some of the other folks when they said, "Why didn't you do it?" I'm like, "You know what? We would have lost everything. Sometimes you have to make change incrementally." And I hated that I had to make that decision. I said, "Be mad at the fourth guy that wouldn't give me the vote."
Mason Funk: I'm curious about, like from his point of view where he was at, at that time-
Patty Sheehan: [00:29:00] What some dumb, now this is what really bugs me is they've moved me around more in this city. Every time we go through redistricting they move me around thinking they're going to get rid of me and they give me more and more conservative areas, what they perceive as more conservative areas because the boys gang up on me. I know they do. And the very interesting thing is: I get higher percentages and the area that they were, he was so concerned about is an area I represented and it wasn't a problem at all. That's what's so frustrating. It's like you have a perception that these folks are so conservative and they're going to throw you out of office when that's not the case at all. I represent this area now.
Patty Sheehan: [00:29:30] I represent Delaney Park. I represent Wadeview. They're good people and they, all they care about is we take care of them. And they want their fair share. I got to tell you what, those housewives in that area were just the opposite, I'm going to research on the kid that just ran against me. They were so worried about me. I would have never expected that. But you know what? It's awesome. It's awesome to have friends and have people tell you I would never have thought I would have voted for a gay person. Or been such close friends with a gay person. Now they'll even say the L word. They'll even say lesbian.
Mason Funk: [00:30:00] Openly lesbian.
Patty Sheehan: Openly lesbian!
Mason Funk: Wow!
Patty Sheehan: It's no longer a curse word anymore. Thanks Ellen [Degeneres]!
Mason Funk: What would you say, first we'll go to the dark side. What would you say has been your biggest disappointment in terms of what you have and have not been able to accomplish as an elected official?
Patty Sheehan: [00:30:30] Oddly enough my biggest disappointment is not having a sidewalk on every street. That was when I originally ran. That was the thing I was most passionate about because when I was in second grade one of the first things that I read was a friend of mine getting killed, walking to school, by a car. I'll never forget that. And we're among the pedestrian, always in the top five cities in pedestrian fatalities because people are freaks here. They don't want a sidewalk in front of their house. They think it brings crime and marauding criminals. This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
Patty Sheehan: [00:31:00] Sidewalks actually improve public safety, they have people walking around in the street. It's a very good public safety thing, but we fight this weird perception that sidewalks bring crime. And people in Florida are just anti-sidewalk. It's the craziest ... that's my biggest frustration as an elected official. I still have to fight that 20 years later. I mean they tried to do a recall on me because I wanted to put sidewalks within a mile of every elementary school. I literally got death threats.
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] Within a mile?
Patty Sheehan: Within a mile of every elementary school. And they walk for two miles. It wasn't even, that wasn't even the necessary that we really needed. We need sidewalks within two miles of every elementary school. I got death threats. I had to have a cop parked in front of my house, they threatened me so bad. And it wasn't even as bad when I was doing LGBTQ equality. It's like what?
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] Is that, what does that say about central Florida? That particular obsession, if you want to call it that, with the idea that sidewalks bring crime? Is this just an area that has a very, very high anxiety around anything that looks like, smells like, looks like, sounds like crime? Is that, or what?
Patty Sheehan: Yeah, I think that there is a perception somehow that people walking around is going to bring crime when it's the exact opposite. A lot of times you find in public life that people have perceptions that are completely untrue. And that's a difficulty. I have people that tell me, "My street is unlivable!
Patty Sheehan: [00:32:30] I can't live here. This traffic is terrible." There were some 100 cars usually a day on their street driving by. That's like four cars an hour. Most people would kill to live on a street that has that less of traffic. But to them this is an unlivable condition because a car drove by their house. And it's probably their neighbor. So it's just trying to get over that perception versus the reality that sometimes people have this strongly held belief that this is just untenable ...
Patty Sheehan: [00:33:00] If the worst thing that happens to you is that someone drove by your house, you're lucky. I got people who are living in squalor. I've got people who live in substandard housing. Not so much in my district, but in other districts, but I care about them because I deliver meals. I see how they live and it's like no, we have to fix this. And the good thing is having good relationships with my colleagues so we can fix these things. We can provide safe affordable housing for people. I love that. And I'm the only City Commissioner
Patty Sheehan: [00:33:30] that touches every other district. I'm right in the middle. I've never been the middle child. I'm the one that gets picked on now. But in redistricting they also offload stuff they don't want on me that they, like the problems they have. And I take it and make it fabulous and then they want it back. They give me all the challenge stuff. When I first got here, when first got elected Eola Park was a cesspool. You didn't want to go there at night, it was drugs, you could pick your nationality or gender of prostitute. It was filthy.
Patty Sheehan: [00:34:00] And now Eola Park is our signature park. They all like, our signature park. And I'm like, yeah, that's our signature park because I busted my tail and got the CRA and the Downtown Development Board to put some funding towards it and started feeding the swans and started doing things that help create a sense of place. I love that stuff. But that's, you have to care about more than just being gay because you have to care about what your constituents care about. And not all the constituents are gay. But one of the biggest compliments I get is,
Patty Sheehan: [00:34:30] "You know she's gay, but she does a really good job." I used to get that 10 years ago. "Yeah, she's gay, but she does a really good job." I remember when I did my crazy spiky hair. I was worried about how the ladies in the towers because those people put me in office. It's the senior towers. The perception is a gay community. It's like no, it's a senior tower, they vote, they're active and they want representation. And I did my hair like really crazy spiked and I was worried how the ladies in the towers were going to ... I went to the Baptist Terrace.
Patty Sheehan: [00:35:00] And I said ... This little lady grabbed me by the hand and she goes, "Honey, the higher the hair the closer to God." And I'm like okay, I guess my hair's okay with the ladies, with the downtowners.
Mason Funk: Awesome.
Patty Sheehan: And it got to be crazy, seriously, we had this downtown Lutheran Towers. They actually had a singing group that's coached by a gay man. And they go to the Fringe Festival, which is our International Fringe Festival. So of course it's very gay.
Patty Sheehan: [00:35:30] And we have these little old ladies singing Lady Gaga. I mean I think that's awesome.
Mason Funk: That's pretty amazing.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's amazing. Okay, so the biggest, we talked, we did biggest disappointment. What would you say is the thing you're most satisfied with, most proud of?
Patty Sheehan: You know as a federal thing, but I never ever thought that LGBTQ people would get the right to marry.
Mason Funk: Yeah, but I want to talk about locally.
Patty Sheehan: [00:36:00] Well we did, the mayor did a ceremony on the steps of City Hall the first day of gay marriage and married, I don't know, 50, 60 couples on the first day. And it was just so cool. And my assistant was one of those people. And my assistant Bill Stevens and his partner Bob Brings actually were part of the lawsuit that we had ongoing behind the scenes. We had two couples, a lesbian couple and a male couple, going forward because if we had been denied from
Patty Sheehan: [00:36:30] Orange County there was going to be an immediate lawsuit filed. And Bob, and Bill and Bob were part of that. And then they ended up not deciding. Orange County decided okay, well we're going to honor these marriage certificates. And so I got to be there when my assistant and his partner were married. And I got to be there that morning when they gave them the, when they didn't refuse them the license. It was just really great.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] Are you okay? Oh, are you listening? I look over and she's like-
Jessica Keller: She's like, you can kind of hear, but you're talking over her.
Patty Sheehan: Okay.
Jessica Keller: You're like in between.
Patty Sheehan: That's my little dog. She hears me now so she's probably freaking out.
Mason Funk: If we brought her, okay, we'll keep going.
Patty Sheehan: If you want to try putting her in the laundry room, but she'll probably bark at you.
Jessica Keller: No, she'll be fine because you're talking.
Patty Sheehan: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:37:30] Okay, so there was a few people you wanted to talk about.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah.
Mason Funk: We already interviewed Tom so I'm not going to have you talk about Tom, but Joel Strack.
Patty Sheehan: Oh my God, Joel.
Mason Funk: So who is Joel Strack?
Patty Sheehan: Joel Strack was my friend who recently passed. And he just recently passed. That again leaves a little hole in my heart, but I will take from Joel his insanely positive attitude, of his flare for the dramatic
Patty Sheehan: [00:38:00] and his never ending persistence and belief that we could have full equality. When I first met Joel he had this crazy red hair. He had this incredibly exuberant smile and he just, he was involved with the Rainbow Democratic Club. And also the Orlando Original Pride. I was also very involved ... No, that's right. I met him when I was with the parade first because that was in 1991
Patty Sheehan: [00:38:30] when we did the first Gay Pride Parade. I didn't start with him until 1992. They started having some financial troubles and I came in and started helping them raise some money and stuff. So in '91, Orlando Regional Pride was basically a couple blocks that walked through downtown. People were fearful of getting outed so they actually wore paper bags over their head and cut out the eyes so they wouldn't be outed. It was maybe a 100 people and there was Klansmen. There was almost as many Klansmen that came out.
Patty Sheehan: [00:39:00] So that's the original, that's how this started in this community. And Joel was a force. Joel was actually the one that, you had to pay for street closures and things like that. Joel would put all that on his personal credit card and hope he got paid back. He was a professional at Disney. So he had a good job. But the fact that he was willing to do this for his community, even when the parade started growing, and the costs were several thousand dollars, he would still put that on his credit card
Patty Sheehan: [00:39:30] and hope that the money came in and I would roll a pink garbage can down the middle of the street and people would throw in money and we'd count the money. And usually we had enough to pay the bill. Yeah, that's literally how the Pride Parade began there. There is a picture of me in this stringy hair in the rain because I used to have long hair, pushing this gay money garbage can down the middle of Orange Avenue.
Mason Funk: Amazing
Patty Sheehan: [00:40:00] That was how we paid for our parade. So the parade has had several iterations. It started out with Orlando Regional Pride and then there was another group, Orlando something Pride. And then it became Come Out with Pride, which is now our large organization. The Metropolitan Business Association, which is now our Pride Chamber took it over. Really professionalized it. Knew how to do the fundraising. So that's how our parade morphed from something a few friends tried to cobble together and beg for money all the way
Patty Sheehan: [00:40:30] to a sponsored event that has hundreds of thousands of people that come. It's actually supported by the city and is actually supported by Visit Orlando. I think it's cool to have seen it grow from something so small to something so large. And again, the ladies in the towers tell me, "You have the best fireworks." Pride has the best fireworks!
Mason Funk: Is there, I'm just thinking to myself in terms of archival terms, I hope somebody is keeping a record of this, of the Pride's, of the parades.
Patty Sheehan: [00:41:00] This is the thing, Joel was a real part of the Gay History Museum too. We have a Gay History Museum. It's located at the community center. And Joel was so, and David Bain used to be the president of what used to be Gay Community Services. And that's the thing, our center has kind of morphed over the years too. It started out as Gay Community Services. Then it really did a lot to help gay men that were suffering from AIDS, which then became Hope and Help, which is our organization that helps people with HIV and AIDS. And then Orlando Gay Chorus came out of the center as well,
Patty Sheehan: [00:41:30] the Gay Community Center. So you had these different groups that started at the center and then morphed into other organizations. And Joel was a part of all of that. I mean Joel, but again, what was so cool about Joel was ... There's always in-fighting; gay men in-fight, lesbians in-fight. People fight, we don't have enough people pressing us from the outside, we got to cause crap to each other too. And the thing that's so awesome about Joel was he would just like, stop. Really positive.
Patty Sheehan: [00:42:00] That's dumb. Let's concentrate on the big picture. And he would do it in a way that wasn't scolding, it was happy. And whats so cool about Joel is he could tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip.
Mason Funk: Wow, wow! I'm sorry we lost him.
Patty Sheehan: I'm sorry we lost him too. He was a bright light. And I got to meet his family. They came down here. Joel was a character. And Joel knew he was going to pass.
Patty Sheehan: [00:42:30] So his whole family came down. And he was born on leap year. So this would have been his quinceanera. That's of course for girls, but that doesn't stop Joel. It's only for Hispanic females, but, Latino females, but it doesn't stop Joel from wanting a quinceanera. So we had, right before he passed, we had this huge party. And it was his quinceanera. And he wore all these elaborate outfits and it was ridiculous and it was so Joel.
Patty Sheehan: [00:43:00] And Joel wouldn't have wanted to have a funeral. Joel wanted to have a big party. And the night that he passed I was there with him. There was PJ and another friend of his from the chorus and me. And we just stroked his fuzzy, he still had, his hair on his head, he had gotten bald and he had gotten gray, but he still has this fiery red hair on his chest and we just stroked him and told him it was okay to let go
Patty Sheehan: [00:43:30] because he didn't want to go. I could tell that he didn't want to go. And I'm like, he's not going to let go. And this is getting crazy. He needs to go. And so we just kept telling him to go to the light. Go to the light Joel. And so a couple of hours after we all left he went to the light.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Patty Sheehan: He was a light. And so yeah, this year at Pride I'm going to be talking about him. I said, "Look, someone's going to do a tribute to Joel and it's going to be me."
Mason Funk: So then how about Martha Chapman?
Patty Sheehan: [00:44:00] Martha Chapman is a local attorney. And this is the thing that bugs me. In most communities we have what I call peacocks and chickens. We have the peacocks that stood around in front of the cameras and they're pretty and they plume their feathers and they look good. And then we have the chickens who actually do the work. And Marty and Lisa Tillman and Kathryn Norsworthy won't be offended by this, but they were the chickens. They were the ones that actually got behind the scenes
Patty Sheehan: [00:44:30] and did the hard work of studying other ordinances for LGBT ... Because at the time we needed to get, to do an ordinance at City Hall what we usually do is we study the best practices and legal things that happen in other cities. And many other cities had passed human rights ordinances, as they call them, or whatever. So ours protected, our ordinance was part of our Chapter 57, which protects for public accommodation, housing and employment.
Patty Sheehan: [00:45:00] So we had to find other ordinances that did that. And Martha did all, most of the legal work. Has never gotten credit for that. She worked with Lisa Tillman and Kathryn Norsworthy. And they actually went to the Commissioners and did the work to make sure the commissioners understood. And they went to Rollins College where they were employed and did the economic studies to show there was a disparity. And they did the hard work to actually show
Patty Sheehan: [00:45:30] why it was so necessary. There was a lot of people in front of the cameras, but they did the work behind the scenes. And I always want to make sure that they get the credit because I feel that they have never really gotten the credit that they deserved for doing the Chapter 57 work that actually provided that springboard for us to go with a lot of the other things that happened. And yes, they're women. They do, we do twice the work for half the pay and none of the credit.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] Great.
Patty Sheehan: They deserve a huge amount of ... Lisa Tillman's still very, very active and involved at Rollins College and is an instructor and does women studies. And she's just an incredible human being. And really shaping the lives of the future. She's just awesome. You can't say enough nice things about her. But she's never really been lauded. And Kathryn, too.
Patty Sheehan: [00:46:30] They've never really been celebrated for the work that they do. And I always want to try to find, it's an occupational hazard to give attention in my line of work. It is what it is, but I always want to make sure that we give credit where credit's due to people who don't always get the credit.
Mason Funk: Right. I think what I love about that story is it really, really, really, really tells the story of how big accomplishments are created by so much painstaking,
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] detailed, behind the scenes work because people may be willing to change their minds and adopt an ordinance or whatever. But they have to be given the information.
Patty Sheehan: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: You can't just say because it's the right thing to do. You have to convince them with facts.
Patty Sheehan: Well we had a binder full of all the other ordinances that all the other cities have done. City Attorney Amy Iennaco put the research binders together. And I still almost didn't get it. I mean I still was biting my fingernails and had a four/three split. And I was freaking out. But we did it.
Patty Sheehan: [00:47:30] As a politician you do not want to have that, if you lose one person you're done. And you know you've got a bunch of religious people coming in and saying crazy stuff like we eat feces and all kind of crazy stuff.
Mason Funk: Just one second. Yes?
Jessica Keller: I was trying-
Mason Funk: Was I gesturing?
Jessica Keller: Just a hint of your glasses is getting-
Mason Funk: Oh, I leaned forward.
Patty Sheehan: I mean religious people have dirty minds. I mean how they come up with half of this crazy stuff they were saying in this hearing. And of course there was stuff that was kind of theater that kind of backfired on them
Patty Sheehan: [00:48:00] because they had these, they did this thing about why, they did this petition drive that LGBTQ people should not, well at the time it was LGB, shouldn't have civil rights and they should be able to be fired from their jobs and all this stuff. So they did this, it was 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper saying all things that why gay people don't deserve rights. And they all signed it. So I got this huge stack of papers and I bound it with some twine and I put it on my desk.
Patty Sheehan: [00:48:30] And when my time came to speak at Council I said, "These are all the people that would deny me a job. These are all the people that would deny me public accommodations. These are all the people that would deny me housing." And I pointed at the stack of paper. And they hated it. It just was like, boom! These are the people who feel this way. And this is why we need these protections. And it really backfired on them.
Patty Sheehan: [00:49:00] Although a really hilarious story from what happened there. It was a very tense time at City Hall. And one of the commissioners, who of course was in the three, was very adamantly opposed to passing any protections for LGB anyway. So she had a bunch of religious people in constantly and everything like that. At one point in time they came in and just threw themselves on my desk speaking in tongues and it was very uncomfortable. So it was very, very tense in the office during that time. And I said, "I don't want anybody back here unless they're escorted
Patty Sheehan: [00:49:30] because this stuff is starting to get crazy and these people are scaring me." The day we were voting, I have a police liaison that works with me, and Rhonda was there and, so she was kind of in charge of security for that day for council. And I remember looking over in my office and I saw a cooler. And I'm like, "Whose cooler is that?" And nobody knew. I'm like, "Okay, there's a cooler in my office and we don't know who it belongs to."
Patty Sheehan: [00:50:00] And I go, "It's a bomb!" Someone has placed a bomb in my office. I'm completely freaked out. And Rhonda had left to go to the bathroom so security comes up and the bomb sniffing dog comes in. Right at the same time Rhonda comes back from the bathroom and goes, "That's my lunch!" But I was really scared and really kind of freaked out. I mean I'm thinking there's a strange, there's a strange cooler in my office and it wasn't there 15 minutes ago.
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] Do you think of yourself as a natural born politician?
Patty Sheehan: No. I'm an artist. I never thought in a million years I would ever run for anything. And that's why I tell people, bloom where you're planted. You just never know where you're going to get planted. I was raised by a conservative who thought that all politicians were losers. And I thought I'd be at some ad agency in New York producing art or at least commercial art.
Patty Sheehan: [00:51:00] You never know where you're going to end up. I worked for Cardinal Homes. I did do marketing for Cardinal Homes. I worked my way through school in that factory. That's how I was able to buy a house for myself at 21 years old. I had a very good job. I learned electrical, plumbing. I mean the construction industry was lucrative at the time and I was able to provide a good life for myself and I got out of school with no debt. So that was a great opportunity that I had and I took advantage of it and learned from it. And I understand that not all, not everybody has that available to them.
Patty Sheehan: [00:51:30] We don't have factory jobs unfortunately and things like that anymore. But I tell anybody if you have the chance to learn something go for it. And I completely lost my train of thought!
Mason Funk: That's okay. That's all right. But if you're not, okay, you're not, you say you're not a natural born politician.
Patty Sheehan: Not a natural, no.
Mason Funk: But-
Patty Sheehan: That's where that train of thought was. Yeah, not at all. I mean I would have never ever thought that I would, it just appeared. Just like I said I was in marketing, commercial art, that kind of thing. That was my trajectory for my career.
Patty Sheehan: [00:52:00] I worked hard so I would have that career. And then I ended up losing my job. I ended up in agriculture because you had to take a state job. That was the thing. If you're on unemployment that they offered you a state job you had to take it. And I got offered a job at the Florida Department of Agriculture. I'm like, oh for God's sake, what am I going to do there? And loved it! When someone called and they were frustrated, they hadn't got any help, I tried to find solutions for their problem, which I think a creative person does. So I think my art degree actually made me a better politician,
Patty Sheehan: [00:52:30] so to speak or public servant because you have to think outside the box sometimes to fix things for people. I really kind of went up through the ranks in that and I decided to run for public office and I never thought I'd be here for 20 years. I was a term limit person until I saw the impact term limits had at the state level. People say, "You just feel that way because you're a career politician." I said, "No, I voted for term limits." I worked for the state and then I saw the implementation of term limits when all the people who knew about the Senate Ad Committee,
Patty Sheehan: [00:53:00] all the people who knew about agriculture, all the people who knew about transportation, all the people who are experts in education all went away, and then it just became a blank slate of deer in the headlights people supported by lobbyists who had absolutely no idea what they were doing. I don't think it's good for that. I think an educated electorate who makes good decisions makes a lot more difference than term limits.
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] So what do you think your biggest, going back to the question if you're not a born politician, what do you think is the biggest personal strength or skill, what makes you a good politician?
Patty Sheehan: Creativity because I can think outside the box. And if I think, okay, this problem is not getting solved, all right? I'll give an example, brick streets. Everybody loves our brick streets.
Mason Funk: Yeah, backup a little second.
Patty Sheehan: Okay.
Mason Funk: Because brick streets are a big deal here.
Patty Sheehan: They are.
Mason Funk: So slow down and tell us about the brick streets in Orlando.
Patty Sheehan: [00:54:00] Okay. It was a thing I ran on. People love brick streets; they either love or hate them. But the majority of the people really love them because it slows traffic, they're charming. There's not a lot of brick streets anywhere else because the snow plows pick up bricks in other cities. So they kind of paved over them. But here in Florida they're charming. You have these oak lined trees. People are attracted to this environment because you have these old homes on these brick lined street with these trees. It just makes for a really gorgeous neighborhood.
Patty Sheehan: [00:54:30] And I live on a brick street, so I love them. But the thing that people get upset about is they need it repaired. And they're expensive to repair. And there's not that many people who know how to do them. So we recently had a water main break on one of our longest brick streets in the city. And it was one of our utility companies that was responsible for the water main break. And I said, "I want you to restore the street." Now that's kind of thinking outside the box because usually we would throw asphalt on it.
Patty Sheehan: [00:55:00] And we did have to throw asphalt on it, but I got a commitment from the utility company to replace the whole street and re-brick it. That's where creativity, if you just look at how you have always done things before you say okay, we're going to throw asphalt on it and that's that. If you think wait a minute, there's brick under that asphalt they would have had to restore the street anyway. This is a historic district, lets get them to do the right thing, which they did. That's how thinking outside the box and being a creative person and being an artist actually is better for me
Patty Sheehan: [00:55:30] because I don't think about how we've always done things. Now granted I have a whole floor full of attorneys that will tell me why I can't do something. Or in a way will help me to do something. But there's a balance with that too. I can't just do whatever crazy idea I have. You got to get it implemented.
Mason Funk: Got you. Okay. Awesome. We are in good shape, and we're going to talk about Pulse.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah, sure.
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] As I said to Tom nobody who doesn't live in Orlando can possibly understand what that was like, living in Orlando.
Patty Sheehan: Yeah. And I think what was so important during that time was setting the right tone. And I did get into a lot of-
Mason Funk: Well backup and give me a thesis statement. Set the stage for me.
Patty Sheehan: I am the first openly gay elected official in central Florida. Pulse is a nightclub located in my district. I know Rosario and Barbara. And I get a call that morning on the 12th
Patty Sheehan: [00:56:30] and I had gotten up at 8:00 that morning. I just checked my phone, and Im like, Man, my phone's blowing up. Because I turn it off at night because I would never sleep if I left my phone on. And then the house phone rang, and it's the Chief of Staff at the city and he goes, "I have some really bad news for you. Are you sitting down?" I'm like, "What?!" Frank never talks like that. Franks not a dramatic person. And he said, "There's 21 people who have been shot at Pulse." And I was like, whoa. And I said, "I got to get there immediately."
Patty Sheehan: [00:57:00] And I said, "I'll be right there." He said, "We're having a press conference at 10:00." And I'm like, "I'll be there well before then." So when you get thrown from okay, it's Sunday morning I'm going to paint to oh my God, I've got to respond. It's weird when you're an elected official. There's certain ... Just things you kind of check off. It's like okay, I need a shirt with a logo because I'm going to be dealing with law enforcement and not all of them know who I am. So, that's going to be my way to get around.
Patty Sheehan: [00:57:30] Wear something that's halfway decently professional in case I have to be on TV. The only bad decision I made that day was my shoes because I didn't realize I was going to be on hot pavement. I wore just some regular oxfords. And I called Eddie, my police liaison, and I said, "We got to go. We got to go now." And he says, "Yeah, I've been trying to call you since 6:00 am." Like, Call me on the house phone, damn it! It rings. You guys, I would have been there. Which, I'm kind of glad now in hindsight that I slept that night because that was the last night of sleep I got.
Patty Sheehan: [00:58:00] So I went out. My phone was just blowing up. The first call that I got was a local news reporter who is also gay, George Estevez, and he says, "Please tell me it's not as bad as they're saying." I'm like, "George, its worse." Because at that point and time, we had parked the car and I had gotten to the Einstein Bagels and, I'm not going to call them bodies because they were people, because now I know the families. There were people still on the ground and
Patty Sheehan: [00:58:30] there was blood all over, stains, and you can tell where people had fallen and been dragged. They had staged everyone behind the Einstein's. So it was just very, very sad because this is a place I go to get coffee and bagels and now its just a crime scene. So they had a press conference. They let us go over to this little tent and then they said we were going to have this press conference at 10. They were waiting for the governor to get there and that's when they made the announcement that it was 50 people.
Patty Sheehan: [00:59:00] At the time the director of the center was Terry DeCarlo, and we're very close friends, and overhearing it was 50. I work with a lot of media people, I'm at a lot of media events, I've never heard a collective gasp go over media professionals. It was just like, "Huh!", when everybody heard it was 50. We adjust it to 49. We don't count the gunman, at the time, we were saying 50.
Patty Sheehan: [00:59:30] We all kind of feel the gunman made his own decision, whereas those other 49 people didn't. Terry and I just hugged each other and a local minister, an African American minister who I did not know, asked if he could pray with us, and that ended up being the picture that went viral. It was me hugging Terry and Reverend Cobaris praying with us.
Patty Sheehan: [01:00:00] My friend at The Sentinel, Joe Burbank, said it was one of the saddest pictures he's ever taken in over 25 years of photojournalism. The feeling with Terry and I was that it wasn't just a shooting, it was a shooting of gay people. At the time, I didn't know if Barbara was alive or dead. I kept asking where's Barbara? But nobody had heard from her yet. My friend Jim Young is actually, at the time he was a sergeant,
Patty Sheehan: [01:00:30] now he's a District Chief of the police department, but I kept telling him, "Let me know if you hear anything. Let me know if you hear anything." Because I knew they would call him first because he used to work off-duty at Pulse and he kind of knew everybody. I didn't know she was okay until later on that day, but I did find out that she was okay, that she was not dead. They were not releasing any names until they knew and a lot of people wonder why it took so long, and this is awful. It wasn't enough that the gunman murdered them,
Patty Sheehan: [01:01:00] he mutilated them and shot them in the face. I knew that because I talked to several family members later and they expressed that to me, that they were so sad they couldn't have an open casket and how their brother, or sister, or friend had been mutilated. I've gotten to know 38 of the 49 families and in a way my role kind of became to help,
Patty Sheehan: [01:01:30] the consoler. Even on that street at the very beginning, there were people that were coming to the barricades that were in the street. I was worried they were complaining, they were mad about the street closures. In here, I'm thinking, elected official, you know, and they wanted a hug. Right about that time, I was doing some media, local media and then someone said, "Oh my God, she knows the owner. She's been in the club. We want to interview her.
Patty Sheehan: [01:02:00] And she's gay." So I kind of got propelled to the international stage because I was openly gay, I knew the owners, I knew the club, and so people wanted to talk to me. I started at 8:00 that morning and I didn't go home until midnight. One of my friends called me, she goes, "Who's booking you? Who's your publicist?". I laughed and I said, "I don't have a publicist." And she says, "Well, now I am." And my friend Tez Figuero, booked me.
Patty Sheehan: [01:02:30] She would just text me where I was to go next. I said, "You have to be more clear because there is media everywhere here." There was literally all of Orange Avenue and this is the weird thing. Orange Avenue is a really big, busy part of our ... It's a major thoroughfare of our city and it was completely blocked off. The media people just started coming immediately, just setting up camp in different places. They were all over the street. It was very strange the way everything just started going.
Patty Sheehan: [01:03:00] You always have to remember with media there has to be a strategy basically because you know you have to get your point across, and I want to get the point across that we needed help for these families, because I knew there was going to be an opportunity to raise funding and we needed to make sure it got to the families, we need to create awareness about LGBTQ equality. This is what happens when you hate people. The third thing I thought about was,
Patty Sheehan: [01:03:30] "Oh my God! We can't give blood!" Gay men can't give blood. Who's going to give us blood? And so in those first hours, I was just begging for people to give blood and when the CNN people turned the monitor around and said, "Have you seen the lines at the blood bank?" I said, "No." And I saw these lines, these amazing people all the way around the blood bank. They were waiting 8 hours to give blood. I was talking to some of my friends from Equality Florida and the first day they reached $1 million dollars
Patty Sheehan: [01:04:00] and of course we ended up rising $34 million dollars and that all went to the families. And that's, you know what? That was important because I got to know them, and they're good people. And they were expecting to go to graduations not funerals. The youngest victim, who tried to stop the gunman by the way, the naysayers, "Oh yeah, all these people are so brave," and puffed, "Why didn't they just rush the gunman?" And one young lady did and she lost her life doing that. The youngest hero.
Patty Sheehan: [01:04:30] So I got to know their stories from their family members and their friends and from people that were in the club. Somebody needed to hear their stories and be there for them in addition to the therapist. So I was kind of an adjunct therapist, but I also said you need to go to the center because I was directing. There's therapists at the center. Go to the center. Mills Avenue. Please go. And just said it over and over again.
Patty Sheehan: [01:05:00] But one situation that really stood out for me I'll never forget was this young man who came up to me. And he says, "My friend's in my apartment and he's shot." I'm like, "Honey, take him to the hospital." And he said, "Well I can't. He's undocumented." And Eddie was with me, my police liaison, and he's Hispanic. I said, "Eddie, what the hell does undocumented mean?" I am embarrassed to say at the time I did not know. And he says, "It means he's here illegally, Commissioner." And I said, "You have to take him to the hospital."
Patty Sheehan: [01:05:30] He goes, "What if he get deported or something like that?" I said, "Eddie, tell him in Spanish, take him to the hospital. He'll be fine. We're not ... We're going to make sure nothing bad happens to him. But he needs to take him to the hospital." Because he shows me this picture of this kid bleeding out of his hip and I'm like, oh my God! He can't keep him in his apartment. But things like that were happening. And what's so horrifying to me now is that I can't make that same promise to that kid. And people shouldn't be afraid to go to the doctor in this country
Patty Sheehan: [01:06:00] where we don't protect people from gun violence. A kid can't even go to the doctor without worrying about being deported. What's wrong with us? I also got to meet Christopher Hanson that day because he was doing some media. He was the heavy set kid with the hat. And I told him, Please go talk to somebody. Because I was more worried about them because I could tell they were still in shock and I was really worried that they weren't going to get help. And that's the main thing that I'm concentrating on still. I wanted to make sure the families got help.
Patty Sheehan: [01:06:30] And we ended you raising $34 million dollars and we structured it like the 9/11 fund. And that money needed to go to those families. We tried to work something out with the bar owner to sell the property, which didn't work out, whatever. But we tried to make everybody whole in their way. But what those families were going through is something that no one should ever have to go through. But I was really proud of our city. Like I say, there was a two prong response. I know there was talk about doing a memorial and this and that,
Patty Sheehan: [01:07:00] but our goal was to make sure that families and people that were most affected got taken care of. And that's what needed to happen at the time. There were city employees that left their desks for months to make sure. We actually set up our football stadium and we had immigration stations set up if you need help with this. If you need help to bring somebody here I'm working with the Senator's office to bring the families in from other places. There was a place where you go get your funeral stipend based if you're a victim of murder you can get help with your funeral expenses.
Patty Sheehan: [01:07:30] It was very sad, but everybody was focused on a job. It was kind of emergency services functions at state level and federal level except this was very geared towards a specific incident. And I could not be more proud of the city employees. They wore rainbow lapel pins, they wore rainbow shirts, and they said, "We're here for this community." And it was astoundingly inspiring. Even though I never,
Patty Sheehan: [01:08:00] I never got to the football stadium because I was just on the street. I was on the street for 10 days straight. In 10 days they're gone. And the media people were almost apologetic. I remember Chris Cuomo saying to me, he goes, he was almost apologizing. He goes, "You know we're going to move on and you all are going to be left with this." And I said, "I know, but we got to do what we can to help people." And I knew that raising money was going to be most effective thing. And it was about four or five days later
Patty Sheehan: [01:08:30] when I finally got back to City Hall and I thought, oh, here's going to be the angry emails from people pissed off that I'm not taking care of their sidewalks yet or something. No, not one. There was only one angry email from someone who didn't upgrade his license who was upset he couldn't get back and forth to his house. That was the only one that I got. That's why it's so important to keep your license updated.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] Where do you think, now three, almost three and a half years later how has the, where has the city kind of got to now on a trajectory that still has a ways to go?
Patty Sheehan: Well this is the thing that people don't realize when a mass shooting happens in their community and we're still one of the largest, everybody else kind of moves on, but then you're left to deal with the situation, mental health issues. And we're three years out now and the money,
Patty Sheehan: [01:09:30] the Department of Justice money is running out. We have lost a couple people. One got drunk and caused a car accident, one of the survivors. Somebody that I knew, that I loved and felt so bad and I knew she would have never done that, but she was in a bad place, you know? You have to keep, there has to be the continued care. That's why I'm kind of upset about this, Well, we need to do this big monument. And I'm like, "No."
Patty Sheehan: [01:10:00] I remember when I was very involved with the AIDS community I wanted to do a monument to the friends that I lost and they said we can't do a monument until we take care of the people who are most impacted. And I kind of feel there's a group in this community that feels that way too. We still have people who are hurting and need help. We don't really need a museum. We need to make sure we still have mental health available. And I agree with that. And that doesn't, I don't think that makes you a bad person or doesn't make me supportive. I think that's just having known the people most impacted, having dealt with those families in a way
Patty Sheehan: [01:10:30] that other people didn't. I'm going to call it out. It's easy to say this is what we need when you weren't there seeing the people suffer like I did. I'm glad that I was able to hold that space. In a way, in a weird way I know now why I lost half my friends between the ages of 25 and 31. I had to go through that horrible agony so that I can relate to someone else's agony when they lost a young person that was really meaningful to them. I know it sounds weird, but that prepared me for that. And I'm glad that this city and this nation and internationally even ...
Patty Sheehan: [01:11:00] When I got back to the office there was little gifts. A lady did these little hearts that said, Love wins because I said that on TV. And there was a lady who said, "I was watching TV," and she just made these little, you know those little things where they have the letters and they bead them on? And it said, Love wins. She mailed these key chains that said, Love wins
Patty Sheehan: [01:11:30] and Love never fails, and all these beautiful sayings on these little key chains that this lady had made and sent to me. She goes, "Please give these to people." There was a lady that made a needlepoint. It was just this needlepoint thing with rainbows. And she says, "I'm not gay, but I want you to have this." And there was a lady that crochets and she crocheted this beautiful Mickey Mouse. She said, "I was making a rainbow Mickey Mouse
Patty Sheehan: [01:12:00] crocheted blanket for my grand baby to be, but I want you to have this." And she had crocheted Orlando strong in that because they saw me on TV. And that means a lot to me, but I didn't do it because it wasn't about me. It was about them and it will always be about them. I'll never forget their faces, I'll never forget meeting them, and nobody should forget.
Patty Sheehan: [01:12:30] And we have to stop the gun violence in this country because we keep doing the same stupid thing over and over and over again. And little kids shouldnt go out for a night on the town, I mean there were children, and get shot. And someone shouldn't go to country music concert and get shot or to church and get shot or to a synagogue and get shot. We have to stop this madness in our country. Weapons of war don't belong on city streets. And I, as a city commissioner, should be able to stop that.
Patty Sheehan: [01:13:00] And as the city commissioner we get drawn into a lawsuit with other municipalities in Florida to be able to regulate firearms. And we're going to be working on some things this year because you shouldn't, you shouldn't have a weapon of war on city streets. And you shouldn't be able to do mass murder. You know what? If you get mad you shoot, you know if you have a regular handgun you can do some damage, but not like what you with these kinds of weapons. And they don't belong in our cities. They don't. And I will always feel that way. And I'm a gun owner.
Patty Sheehan: [01:13:30] Okay, they say, "Well you just feel that way because you're just this flaming liberal and you don't care about gun rights." I have a gun. I care about gun rights. I live next door to a gun store for God sake. But I do not believe weapons of war should be given to anyone willy nilly, especially if they have, you know, somebody who's going to want that kind of a gun probably has bad intent. So that's just where I'm at. That's how I feel about it. I think we need common sense gun reform. We need to care about each other. Yeah, there's a, I even said on the street after Pulse happened,
Patty Sheehan: [01:14:00] I said, "Yeah, we need to get to the source of this hatred and division. But my God, why arm it? Why arm it to nth degree?" And most of those families feel that way too. And that's something I will continue to try to fight for them. I'm not as involved with the assistance center and different things like that as I was. I kind of need a break myself because it was a lot to absorb. And the campaign kind of took me out of being there a lot.
Patty Sheehan: [01:14:30] But the interesting thing in a weird way, I mean I was kind of, an opponent filed at the last minute to run against me. I was kind of annoyed, but the weird thing was it threw me into this stress because I was having a problem with post traumatic stress, which I didn't really understand until I had gone through this trauma. Which by the way is nothing compared to what the families have gone through so this is why I say they need mental health counseling because what they've been through is nothing compared to what I've gone through and I know what I've been through. And it's been very hard. You have to take care of people.
Patty Sheehan: [01:15:00] But the weird thing is that this level of campaign stress was something I'm used to and it kind of got me used to dealing with stress without being agonizingly horrible. In a weird way it kind of rewired my cerebral cortex I guess in a way to say, Okay, I can deal with this. And now when I get stressed out I don't go to that agony like I ... That's the thing. It triggers, they say it triggers, and hate that these are all gunshot words, but it triggers that trauma.
Mason Funk: Sure. We have to begin wrapping up.
Patty Sheehan: [01:15:30] Okay. And I can't not get emotional. It's just, it's hard.
Mason Funk: No you don't have to not get emotional. If you could tell your 13 year old self one thing what would it be?
Patty Sheehan: It gets better. Embrace.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Incorporate my question into your answer. If I could ...
Patty Sheehan: To talk to 13 year old Patty I would tell her it does get better. You're going to have an amazing life. It doesn't look like you can, it doesn't look like there's a way out right now,
Patty Sheehan: [01:16:00] but you are going to live a life that exceeds your dreams. That you're going to get to know people that you love. You're going to have love and you're going to have loss. But you're going to live a wonderful life. And you're going to get to see your people accepted and you're going to have to fight your whole life for acceptance. And it's going to be hard, but it's going to be so worth it
Mason Funk: What trait do you believe, what positive trait do you think kind of defines LGBTQ people and the community?
Patty Sheehan: [01:16:30] Tenacity. We don't give up. Perseverance. I mean we, it's kind of like, I remember thinking when we had, we got marriage, I thought, Well it's done. We're here. And now we're here fighting it at the Supreme Court level just for our basic civil rights. So we have to remember these things can be taken away so easily. And there are people in this country who believe that we should not exist.
Patty Sheehan: [01:17:00] And we have to be vigilant and we have to vote. I mean I'm so frustrated with people who think, Oh, it's done. I don't have to participate and I don't have to vote. And I get very angry when my friends in the African American community, with minorities in general where we say, Oh, well we got this so we don't have to vote. We have to vote every single time because they're voting and they're frightening. And I've talked to some of these people and they are, unfortunately this political climate that we're in right now has brought people out of the woodwork
Patty Sheehan: [01:17:30] and belief systems out of the woodwork. I'm horrified by people that I work with and I liked that I cannot believe their beliefs, but makes me realize that we have to keep fighting all the more. And care about each other. I think part of the problem right now is that we're all in our own little worlds and social media echo chambers. And we're not realizing we're a community and we need to care about each other because by not caring about each other we've,
Patty Sheehan: [01:18:00] we have a group of people who don't care about anybody and actually care about victimizing people, and it's horrific. We have to, I'd rather return to the days when we were inclusive and supportive and cared about one another and were talking about things like providing healthcare rather than taking, ripping children away from their families. I mean wow! America, who are we? I want us to be defined by our kindness not by our meanness because you know what? Strength is not meanness. And weakness is not kindness. Kindness is not weakness. And I think we've forgotten ... We've lost our way as Americans.
Mason Funk: [01:18:30] Why is it important to you to share your story?
Patty Sheehan: My 19 year old nephew just came out. Well, he's 20 now. And I said, "TJ, why didn't you tell me?" And he rolled his eyes and he said, "Aunt Patty it's not a big deal like when you came out."
Patty Sheehan: [01:19:00] And I think he knows what a big deal it is because he listens and he's really smart and he's sharp. But I think the problem is that we forget how hard fought these rights are. I think I've talked to young women and I tell them I couldn't even get a credit card on my own and they're kind of surprised, and they realize these are rights women didn't have. So I think we have to tell these stories and I wanted to participate in this because I want people to know
Patty Sheehan: [01:19:30] that these stories and these struggles, A, to know that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. But we have to fight. We have to fight and we have to keep doing it. And it's worth it. Its worth the fight. So that's why I do this. I get requests to do these kinds of things. I like this project because, you know, you hear about the folks in San Francisco that these were, but I interact with openly gay elected officials
Patty Sheehan: [01:20:00] because I was very involved with the Victory Fund and the different groups that are elected officials. We used to have a group called the Gay Lesbian ... GLBTLO, the local elected officials. And there are places where it's not as easy. So we can kind of learn from other people. We had an openly gay elected official in Wyoming. How the heck did that happen! That's awesome. So we do need to keep moving forward. And we do need to have our place at the table as openly gay people.
Patty Sheehan: [01:20:30] And there's more and more elected officials. And we have our first presidential candidate. Yes, I'm voting for him because he's amazing!
Mason Funk: Yeah, I got to meet him actually.
Patty Sheehan: I did too. I got to introduce him when he came to Orlando. I was like a little girl. I even kissed him and I'm like oh my God! I didn't! I was such a fan girl that I kissed him and I'm like oh my God I can't believe it. What if a Secret Service person or some staffer grabbed me and said, "You can't do that!" It was sweet because I, he was just very-
Mason Funk: Yeah, he's the kind of person who makes you all like-
Patty Sheehan: [01:21:00] He is! He's lovely.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Well we are good.
Patty Sheehan: Okay.
Mason Funk: We're going to roll 30 seconds of this room. We call it room tone. Just quiet.
Patty Sheehan: Sure.
Mason Funk: And then we'll be done.
Patty Sheehan: Oh, this room is never quiet.
Jessica Keller: [inaudible]. The tone of this room. This is room tone. Okay.
Patty Sheehan: [01:21:30] Of course now the dog stops barking.
Mason Funk: I know ...

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Jessica Keller
Date: October 10, 2019
Location: Home of Patty Sheehan, Orlando, FL