Hannah Stargel knew if she publicly criticized her mother, a candidate for Congress, it could generate attention. But a day after posting a TikTok clip labeling Florida state Sen. Kelli Stargel as “the worst mom ever,” the Florida woman feels a little overwhelmed by the level of interest.
On Tuesday morning, less than a day after it was first published, the TikTok video already had nearly 68,000 views.
“I did want a reaction,” Stargel told The Advocate. “I didn’t expect it to blow up overnight.”
In the viral clip, the 28-year-old calls her mother out as a hypocrite for running for years on a family values platform, meanwhile leaving her children in the care of neighbors during legislative sessions and imposing beliefs through strict discipline when she was at home.
As a bisexual woman, Stargel takes issue with a number of her mother’s political “accomplishments.” Sen. Stargel sponsored Florida’s new ban on abortions 15 weeks into pregnancies, a restriction with no exceptions for instances of rape or incest. The state senator also was the force behind a prohibition on transgender girls playing in girls’ sports in Florida schools.
The latter legislation stings especially for Hannah Stargel. Not only is she a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, her boyfriend has a transgender daughter directly impacted by the law. Its passage created a rift in the family — Stargel’s sister Laura Stargel criticized the legislation in an op-ed published by the Orlando Sentinel last year — for both its bigoted substance but for the manner in which it passed. Sen. Stargel at one point announced the bill was dead in the Senate and would not be carried through the legislative process, then brought it back through a procedural maneuver, offering the language as an amendment to an unrelated bill. Having grown up in a family deeply engaged in the lawmaking process, Hannah Stargel said that was the type of backroom dirty trick looked down upon by her parents.
Now Stargel said she’s not on speaking terms with her mother or father, John Stargel, a former lawmaker turned appellate judge. Relationships grew fractious over time, primarily because of the family’s political engagement.
Hannah Stargel has appeared in campaign pamphlets and photographs since she was 8 years old. Later, she was paid to go door-to-door, doing so for the pay even as her own politics drifted further from her mother’s, but as an adult, she stopped campaigning after too many interactions with right-wing voters.
Her TikTok video describes other contentious points in the family’s history, such as her mother withholding meals if her children refused to attend church or the time Hannah was sent to a camp for troubled teens at age 15.
Stargel also told The Advocate she never discussed her sexuality with her parents until adulthood, though she presumed it to be an open secret since high school. While serving in the Army, Stargel dated women; her family even met former girlfriends.
But not until 2019 did she explicitly tell her father she identified as LGBTQ+. That took place during a trip to Germany. “He was extremely shocked,” she said. “That Germany trip was horrible.”
She presumed her father would independently tell her mother, but it wasn’t until a trip last year that Stargel discussed the issue with Sen. Stargel. As Stargel drove her mother to the airport for a flight to California, the elder Stargel discussed public perception about wearing rainbow colors and what members of the LGBTQ+ community perceived about her politics. Finally, Stargel had enough.
“Do you not realize I’m gay?” she told her mother. “When you talk about ‘they’ and ‘them,’ that’s me.”
She recalls her mother expressing surprise and saying she just “dropped this bomb” right before a trip out of state. But when Sen. Stargel flew back from California, she gave her daughter a box of rainbow-colored chocolates as a gift.
“That was sweet at the time,” she said. “For a while, every time she brought cookies or treats, they were rainbow as a peace offering.”
Such gestures, though, wore thin as her mother continued to sponsor right-wing legislation hurtful to LGBTQ+ youth.
“You can’t buy rainbow cookies and then pass laws against children in the community,” Hannah Stargel said.
Sen. Stargel, after her daughter's video went viral, provided a statement to multiple media outlets saying only, “I love my daughter with all of my heart.”
Hannah Stargel said she wishes in a sense the friction in the family could stay private. After being surrounded by politics between ages 8 and 28, she hoped her mother’s upcoming retirement from the Florida legislature would bring the division and scrutiny to a close. That as much as anything made her upset when her mother announced last week she would run for Congress.
She’s spent much of her adult life living in other states, partly to get away from a community where her surname appears on billboards advancing a political philosophy she does not share. But the chance her mother could hold federal office and from that perch continue to promote anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is too much to ignore.
“I don’t want to be a Stargel anymore,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to know my last name.”
Stargel started a new TikTok account in hopes of slowly building a narrative that may gain steam ahead of a Republican primary in August. It’s just as well, she said, that the interest has come quickly, even if it comes with some temporary attention.