ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Opponents of President Donald Trump’s reelection announcement Tuesday in Florida rebuked his administration’s policies at a rally outside a gay bar with performances by a mariachi band and a drag queen, speeches by a transgender woman and women who had abortions and the appearance of a 20-foot-high (6-meter-high) blimp of a scowling Trump in a diaper.
“The goal is to get under his skin,” said Mark Offerman, the handler of the blimp known as “Baby Trump.”
“Baby Trump” wasn’t the only helium-dependent iteration of the president at the rally. Lane Blackwell, who owns a clothing and swimwear store in Orlando, had manufactured 200 small balloons with Trump in a diaper and passed them out.
“People can’t get enough of these,” he said.
Organizers of the “Win With Love Rally” said Trump’s announcement in Orlando on Tuesday night was an affront to a city with a visible gay community and a large Puerto Rican population. Orlando is at the center of the Interstate 4 corridor, stretching from Tampa to Daytona Beach, which is considered the swingiest part of the nation’s largest battleground state.
Opponents blame the Republican president for holding up disaster aid to Puerto Rico over a feud with Democratic leaders on the island. The Trump administration also has moved to revoke newly won health care protections for transgender people, restrict their presence in the military , and withdraw federal guidance that trans students should be able to use bathrooms of their choice.
“We’re fighting back against an administration that thinks we can be erased,” said Gina Duncan, a transgender activist in Orlando. “We won’t be erased.”
The president’s reelection announcement comes a week after the third anniversary of the massacre of 49 people at the gay Pulse club, a turning point for Orlando community leaders in embracing ideas of diversity and tolerance, said Ida Eskamani, a protest organizer. The club closed after the shooting, and a planned memorial is in development on the site.
“Orlando is such a bastion of hope and love and solidarity of marginalized people since Pulse and we have embraced that identity of who we are as a community,” Eskamani said. “We want to show the country that Trump’s brand of politics doesn’t work along the I-4 corridor. We are ready to win with love.”
The chairman of the local Republican Party said Trump is fighting for all Americans.
“For them to say Donald Trump doesn’t like gay people is wrong. For them to say Donald Trump doesn’t like Hispanics is wrong,” said Charles Hart, chairman of the Orange County Republican Executive Committee.
Trump’s visit in Orlando split Shaun Noble’s family. His mother was at the Trump announcement while he was at the anti-Trump protest.
“It’s really caused a divide in our relationship,” Noble said. “It’s my right to believe what I want to believe as a gay man. It’s her right to believe what she wants to believe.”
Orlando’s hometown newspaper said Tuesday in an editorial that it won’t endorse Trump.
“Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent,” the Orlando Sentinel wrote. “Because there’s no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.”
The editorial went on to say that it has had “enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies.”
Several times at the anti-Trump rally, groups of men wearing black “Proud Boy” T-shirts and red “Make America Great Again” hats tried to enter the street where the anti-Trump protesters were gathered. They were stopped by groups of police officers and deputies. As they walked away, a man from the far-right Proud Boys group said, “We’re just Americans. This is a sad day.”
Later a Trump supporter with a megaphone tried to talk at the anti-Trump supporters across a police barrier but he was drowned out by chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go.”
Hours before the Trump rally, Unite Here!, a labor union representing hospitality workers, held a news conference with migrant workers who said they were employed at Trump-owned properties while they were living in the country illegally, WFTV reported.
“This is the one story the administration doesn’t talk about: the undocumented immigrants who worked for Donald Trump in his house for many, many years,” the station quoted immigration attorney Anibal Romero as saying. “These are the same people he vilifies.”
Sandra Diaz, an immigrant who said she worked at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, said she and others came to the news conference to declare that “we aren’t criminals.”
This story has corrected the spelling of the Orlando Sentinel. The story summary has been corrected to show the rally was not at the former site of the nightclub Pulse but at another gay club.
Follow Mike Schneider at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP