Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz and the board of directors of Lakeland Christian School agreed during a recent board meeting that he should resign from the panel following his June 20 reading at a City Commission meeting of a proclamation recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month.
“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender residents, students, employees and business owners within Lakeland contribute to this vibrant, innovative culturally inclusive community and its diversity,” Mutz read. “Members of LGBTQ communities face discrimination based on their innate status, which sometimes results in human tragedy, loss of life, community isolation, or abuse, and whereas PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) of Polk County envisions a community where diversity and all people are respected, valued and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression…”
Mutz said he made the proclamation on his own behalf, not the City Commission’s. He explained later that anyone can ask the city to issue a proclamation. If it is a topic that adheres to the law, the city will move forward. A proclamation recognizing Gay Pride Month has been read at a Lakeland City Commission meeting each year since 2015, with the exception of 2020, when in-person meetings were not held because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
LkldNow wrote about this year’s proclamation and a small contingent of residents who spoke out against it at the meeting.
Mutz told LkldNow that some people at Lakeland Christian School — founded in 1954 and the oldest private Christian school in Polk County — saw the article and voiced their concern that Mutz wasn’t adhering to the school’s statement of belief he signed when he began serving on the board nearly 20 years ago.
“We believe that God has established marriage as an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman and that all intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral and therefore sin,” the statement of faith reads before citing scripture, including Genesis 2:24-25, Exodus 20:14, Matthew 19:4-6, and 9, and Jude 7. “We believe that God created the human race male and female and that all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin. (Gen. 1:27; Deut. 22:5)”
Ten of Mutz’s 12 children have attended the school, including Kirsti Mutz Lewis, who is featured in a promotional video on the school’s website.
The board held a meeting July 25.
“The board wanted to meet on that topic, and we did and we spent two and a half very deliberate hours and had very conscientious conversations about the importance of making certain that the school didn’t seem to be compromising its principles because of my responsibilities as a mayor and concurrent board member,” Mutz told LkldNow. “So, really, we got to the conclusion that the surest way to create a distinction is … to request my resignation, which I then provided and … a motion was made to accept it that was very gracious and recognized no compromise on my personal values, and beliefs. But because of the inconsistency in appearance that may occur due to my responsibilities … to be the mayor of all citizens … of our community, which is ongoing and which I work daily to do and to protect all citizens’ civil rights, that may make it difficult to also serve on the board.”
Mutz called LGBTQ rights “a huge topic of concern and amplification in our society today, and for parents, in terms of, you know, kind of navigating through all that.”
He noted the love he and his wife, Pam, have for her brother, who is gay, and for the many LGBTQ friends they have who contribute to the culture of Lakeland.
“It’s certainly a choice an individual can make,” Mutz said. “It is different from what I certainly think … I think it’s just it’s a choice people can certainly make. And then … it is a very, very difficult struggle, primarily for acceptance. I think our responsibility as people is to be as broadly accepting as possible.”
Mutz said the board’s vote to accept his resignation was unanimous.
LkldNow reached out to multiple members of the LCS board of directors and to Head of School Michael Sligh. Calls and emails went unreturned by 8 a.m. on Friday. Several board members said Sligh and Board Chairman Kevin Knowlton, an attorney with the Peterson & Myers law firm, were tapped to speak on the matter.
Tim Sizemore, pastor of Beacon Hill Fellowship, a joint congregation of the Presbyterian Church USA and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church, which is welcoming to all people, accepted the proclamation on behalf of Polk Pride, an LGBTQ rights group, back in June.
Sizemore was disappointed to hear that the LCS board and Mutz have parted ways.
“While the Lakeland Christian School is free to choose their board members, I believe it is their loss,” Sizemore told LkldNow. “As a pastor of a Christian congregation that welcomes and affirms persons who are LGBTQIA+, I deeply appreciate the Mayor’s desire to acknowledge and affirm all of our fellow citizens who live, work and reside in our city. I do not know the Mayor’s personal religious views about LGBTQIA+, but I do admire and support his desire to recognize that people of different sexual orientations and gender identities not only work as employees for our city but also live as next door neighbors to us all. I wish all Christians could see the devotion of our LGBT members to God and our church, but until that day comes, let us at least hope for generous, kind gentlemen like Bill Mutz to serve all our citizens including those who are LGBTQIA+.”
Tom Phillips is executive director of Citrus Connection, the county’s bus service, and has worked closely with Mutz on transportation issues. His two sons originally attended LCS before he moved them to Lakeland Montessori Charter School and then McKeel Academy.
“Eleven years ago, when we moved to Lakeland, the only non-negotiable in moving was that we could send our kids to LCS. At the time, we didn’t see the public schools as an option from what we could see from afar,” Phillips said. “I cannot imagine LCS without the guiding hand of Mayor Mutz. He is the finest example of a Christian leader I have ever seen. Navigating faith and public service is a minefield. No one does it better than Bill Mutz. I was sad to see what happened, but private institutions are just that, private.”
Mutz said he was not fired and he took issue with a website that said he was.
“The Lakeland Gazette is a trolling paper that looks for one offs and amplifies them inaccurately to gargantuan proportions. That’s just what they do,” Mutz said. “And so it’s a shame to me, that you’re more concerned about how many posts you might get liked by creating an article that is extraordinarily wrong and very damaging potentially to other people and entities than you are to have accuracy. They never once called, interviewed me and how could they possibly make a conclusion about what I think as a result of what really happened. There was no firing. And you take an institution like Lakeland Christian that has existed in this community for over 50 years. And many, many people who have supported that institution for years and you’re more interested in creating posts for the purpose of notoriety and slamming reputations than you are seeking facts and taking the time to do that responsibly.”
As reported by Florida Politics, Lakeland Gazette is owned by Cloud 9 Entertainment, which lists Robert Anderson and his wife, Laura Anderson, as officers on the state’s Division of Corporations website. Lakeland Gazette has frequently lifted content from LkldNow, The Ledger and other news organizations. He has blocked this reporter from his Facebook page after confronting him about stealing stories.
According to the Polk County Clerk of the Court, Anderson was convicted of violating Florida’s Communications Fraud Act, a felony involving organized fraud, in Polk County in 1994. The statute states that “many operators of schemes to defraud use communications technology to solicit victims and thereby conceal their identities and overcome a victim’s normal resistance to sales pressure by delivering a personalized sales message.”
In 2004, Anderson had his civil rights restored by then-Governor Jeb Bush.
But the next year, Anderson received $1,500 in fines from the Florida Elections Commission for one count of failing to file an expenditure report and three counts of failing to add a “paid political advertisement” disclosure on mailers during a Lee County water district race.
The Lakeland Gazette endorsed Mutz’ opponent in the last election.
Mutz said he has one task in this lifetime. “Our responsibility is not to criticize people’s particular lifestyle, it is to love unconditionally. The number one responsibility we have as human beings … is to love one another unconditionally and that is the doorway to relationship, and relationships are where we create thriving growth in life,” Mutz said. “I have huge respect for what LCS accomplishes and the tremendous sacrifice that teachers and staff make to work there and in the responsible way that they balanced both education and truth and biblical truth.”
An earlier version of this story misidentified Beacon Hill Fellowship Pastor Tim Sizemore.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.