Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan apologized Monday in a letter to the editor for calling for a boycott to the Orlando Sentinel in response to a letter that claimed coverage of the Pulse tragedy as a gay issue was to blame for an attendance drop at Walt Disney World.

“I am ashamed that I allowed myself to get dragged into the fray,” Sheehan wrote in the letter. “I apologize to my friends who are reporters for calling them “cowardly and silent” on my personal Facebook rant.”

Sheehan is the city’s first openly gay commissioner and has been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community. She said she was angered by the timing of the letter, just days after the remembrance of the June 12, 2016 tragedy.

C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, which tracks consumer trends, claimed that Evangelical Christians were going to Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky rather than Disney.

“United Orlando” or “Love Orlando,” with the gay flag in the background, might make some feel good,” Beemer wrote in a June 14 letter to the Sentinel’s editor. “For evangelical Christians planning family vacations, however, that image is a real turn-off.”

Beemer went on to say that the “portrayal of the Pulse shooting as a gay-lesbian issue rather than an act of terrorism accounts for the drop in (Disney) visitors.”

Many criticized the Sentinel for running Beemer’s letter in the Local Viewpoint section, despite a disclaimer that it did not reflect the views of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board. The paper also failed to point out that Beemer’s company markets Ark Encounter.

Sheehan said Beemer’s letter alarmed her when “community conversation turns into mean-spirited attacks, which add to political division and further the chasms that exist between us.”

Orlando Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell called Beemer’s letter offensive, logically deficient and bigoted.

“But the whole thing still read like an advertisement — a shallow, illogical advertisement” Maxwell wrote on his Facebook page. “And for that reason alone, I never would have run it.”

But the columnist defended the Sentinel’s coverage of the Pulse massacre and reporters who cover the news.

In Monday’s letter, Sheehan chastised the paper for being more concerned with “clicks and engagement at the price of civility.”

She said she felt her Facebook rant against the Sentinel “was the only way to get the editorial board to understand that its actions have consequences, and people in my community were upset by the column.”

About The Author

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

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