Politics

Florida’s Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll Embroiled in Alleged Gay Scandal, Insults LGBTs

Fri., Jul. 20, 2012 10:55 AM EST
by Terry Shropshire

Already under fire from an ex-employee for allegedly being caught in the throes of a gay romantic encounter in her office, Florida’s first African American lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, sparked a national inferno when she told the press that “black women who look like me” could not be homosexuals.

The ultimate verbal fumble has not only incited outrage from the homosexual community, particularly among gay black women, but it also cast an unflattering light on her character and adds to suspicions surrounding the alleged episode in her office.

Here’s how the highest-ranking black official in Florida history tried to put out the fires from an aide who said she caught Carroll in “a compromising position” in her state capitol office:

“The problem is that when you have these accusations that come out,” Carroll told a Tampa television station, “it’s not just one person you’re attacking. It’s an entire family. My husband doesn’t want to hear that. He knows the type of woman I am. I mean, my kids know the type of woman I am … Usually black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”

Carroll’s clumsy defense — that she couldn’t have engaged in homosexual acts because she doesn’t physically resemble a lesbian — is being seen as an attack on the lesbian community at large and the black lesbian community in particular.

The backlash against Carroll because of her word choices and denigration of lesbians was fast and furious:

  • “You have labeled lesbian gender expression as being deviant,” Alysia, a self-identified black lesbian woman wrote to the Lt. Governor, according to the HuffPost. “and have both denied and revoked black lesbian femininity. Since I don’t have a visual lesbian identifier you have tried to silence me.”
  • Another woman, Jaye, wrote, “Black women who are professional, well educated, well spoken and well dressed just might be lesbians, too!”
  • In response to Carroll’s statements, women posted pictures of themselves on Twitter #ThisIsWhatALesbianLooksLike, at the behest of HuffPost, to show that lesbians come in “all colors, all sizes, all hairstyles!”

The former aide’s accusation was not politically damaging, since there were no forthcoming witnesses to corroborate the aide’s accounts. But Carroll’s unfortunate defense of her heterosexuality certainly is, and it remains to be seen just how much it will cost her.

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  • http://twitter.com/doriaroberts doria roberts

    HI, my name is Doria Roberts and I started the twitter trend #ThisIsWhatALebsianLooksLike which HuffPost then re-tweeted. My open letter to Lt. Gov. Carroll is below:

    “The roots of sexism and homophobia are found in the
    same economic and political institutions that serve as the foundation
    of racism in this country.”
    -Professor Angela Y. Davis (Woman, Culture and Politics)

     
    “You don’t have to live next to me!
    Just give me my equality!”
    -Nina Simone (Mississippi Goddamn!)

     
    Hi Lt. Governor Carroll,

     
    It’s been a long week, yes? Wow.

     
    Well,
    I’m sure you’ve heard by now what’s been going on but let me introduce
    myself. My name is Doria Roberts and I’m the person who started the
    activist hashtag #ThisIsWhatALesbianLooksLike in response to your
    comment about what black lesbians don’t look like–namely you.

     
    First,
    I want to say that it was not my intention to shame you and that I
    want (very badly) to give you the benefit of the doubt. I can’t imagine
    having to defend myself against charges of adultery when I knew myself
    to be innocent. My wife is my life and anything challenging or
    questioning my commitment to her or the foundation of our marriage would
    send me grasping for any and all lifeboats to assure her that I value
    our union above all.

     
    Now,
    I’m generally a forgiving person and I know I don’t have access to my
    best self every minute of every day so I can understand how some of the
    things you said may have been said under duress as opposed to a
    deep-seated, polarizing and misguided hate for a group of people you
    don’t even know. I mean, Peter denied Jesus three times. And that was Jesus!

     
    But as I’ve said, I could only understand some of the things you said.
     
    Please do not confuse my compassion with acceptance.

     
    When
    I heard the quote “Black women who look like me don’t usually engage
    in those type of relationships (meaning lesbian relationships).”
    attributed to you as a defense, my first and only thought was “No.”
    Really, just that. No. I wasn’t going to allow yet another public figure
    to offer my life up as a whipping post to absorb their public
    flogging–especially one who looked like me.  
     
    Yes, despite what you think, Lt. Gov. Carroll, you do look like me.

     
    But more on that later…

     
    When
    the hashtag started to pick up some steam, I reached out to my own fan
    base to contribute to the dialogue but implored them not to bash you. I
    asked them to use their activism and channel their outrage as a
    “teachable” moment for you and others like you who now will (hopefully)
    think twice before throwing others in the line of fire to advance their
    political and/or professional agendas.
     
    After
    awhile though, I stopped thinking about you (and others like you) and I
    began to focus instead on the hundreds of smiling faces I was being
    introduced to through this entirely serendipitous post. All beautiful,
    all happy.

     
    I
    started thinking about me and my wife and how, as an interracial
    lesbian couple living in the Southeastern United States, we face the
    unknowable every day. And, though we are nowhere near the top of the
    social food chain, we manage to run a successful business together. I’m
    also musician who travels internationally so there is no option for us
    to stay inside and hide when things get rough.
     
    We
    do this, as much as we can, with smiles on our faces. Some days those
    smiles are hard won, sometimes they don’t come at all and some days
    they come as easy as sunrise despite the fact that we live in a world
    where it is thought to be a risk to be who we are and an act of courage
    to simply claim it.

     
    Okay.

     
    That said, let’s get to the real talk…

     
    First, a little quiz.

     
    Of the following four names, which one(s) do you recognize and what is the link between them?
     
    Sakia GunnShani BarakaRayshon HolmesMatthew Shepherd
     
    Take your time. I’ll wait.

     
    Alright, that’s silly because I can’t really
    know your answer, right? But I’m going to venture a guess and suppose
    that you are an average person with average access to and consumption of
    popular media. If I were to guess your answers based on that criteria,
    I would project that you didn’t know the first three names and
    probably knew the last one.

     
    The
    first three names belong to African American lesbian and bisexual
    women who were murdered because of their sexuality, gender and/or
    non-conformity to binary gender stereotypes. The fourth name belongs to a
    white, young male who was also a murder victim targeted because of his
    sexuality.
     
    So, if you guessed that they are all members of the LGBT community and all victims of hate crimes you would be correct.

     
    The
    similarities, however, pretty much end there. According to Lexis/Nexis
    reports, Sakia’s murder generated only 21 stories as opposed to the
    659 generated by Matthew’s. That is a staggering difference of 638
    stories or 30 times more…or less. However you want to look at it. 

     
    The
    point I’m trying to make is that, statistically speaking, hate crimes
    against lesbians of color are less likely to be covered by major media
    outlets even when the crime is murder and is provoked by our sexuality.

     
    Put another way:

     
    We
    (i.e. lesbians of color, queer women of color and black lesbians in
    particular) are already shouldering epically disproportionate concerns
    about our visibility without folks like you adding to the load. We are
    living in a society that almost pathologically refuses to acknowledge
    our existence…that is until our existence is perceived as a threat.

     
    Well,
    I am here to tell you that we are not a threat. Furthermore, we are
    not your problem. We are your sisters and your belief that we do not
    look like you has no bearing on the irrefutable fact that you do indeed
    look like us, whether that “look” is butch, femme, stud, punk, prep or
    otherwise.

     
     
    When
    you say or do things that dehumanize me, you dehumanize yourself. Know
    that. And, we both know how easily dehumanization leads to
    invisibility which breeds intolerance which can, in some cases, as
    evidenced by the headlines pouring out of Colorado this morning,
    justify senseless acts of violence.
     
     
    ——–
     
    The
    quote I used to open this letter is a quote by Sister Angela Davis (no
    introduction necessary here I hope) and is one I use in a song of mine
    called “Because”. I use the quote to invoke and inspire a call to
    multi-issue activism because I often see in my divergent communities a
    lack of “cross pollination”. I want to see more LGBT outlets and
    organizations reporting on and standing in solidarity with the black
    community for cases like Trayvon Martin without having to be reminded.
    Conversely, I want to see black publications giving Sakia, Shani and
    Rayshon their due. And on and on and on…

     
    I’ve
    thought a lot about you and me this week and how possibly, at the
    intersection of our struggles, we could find some common ground. I
    thought about the paths of Professor Davis and Condoleeza Rice. Did you
    know that they grew up approximately 15 miles apart in Alabama and both
    cite the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church as the impetus for
    their respective activist efforts. (Yeeesss, Condi is an activist too.
    Don’t get it twisted, folks.) While they are on opposite ends of the
    spectrum, they are still part of the same sorority and that is one that
    cannot afford to be fractured just so that you can save face.

     
    I
    can only imagine what it would take for a black woman to make it to
    where you are now, one of the highest ranking officials in Florida. Florida!

     
    But,
    you know, I don’t have to imagine it. I’m living it. I know what it’s
    like to tirelessly search for your own voice and, after finding it,
    having to then find an audience for it. What I’ve learned is that
    sometimes you don’t look like your audience and they don’t look like
    you. And that’s okay. Never take for granted the potential of your
    reach. While diversity can make this land we live in hard to bear, it’s
    also what makes it…brilliant.
     
    What an
    amazing opportunity and time we have and live in. We should be
    celebrating that as allies–not senselessly sparring as adversaries.

     
    Ultimately,
    what I’d like for you to take away from this experience is an
    understanding of how easily words, both yours and mine (28 total. Yes, I
    counted. I’m a Virgo. What’s your sign?), can change the landscape of
    visibility for people who are not only surviving but living full lives
    on the so-called “fringes of society”.
     
    Remember that only four or so years ago people would have said that men who look like President Obama (with names like Barack, Barack!) don’t become President of the United States. They would have been wrong. Like, really wrong.

     
    Remember
    these names: Sakia, Shani, Rayshon, Matthew and the thousands of names
    that go unaccounted for. Mourn the loss of their potential, their
    youth and of their “becoming”.
     
    Remember the faces of the hundreds (hundreds!) of women who stood up to be counted after you unceremoniously discounted them. Commit them to memory.

     
    Remember
    how small thinking and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes can
    get in the way of our progress. Dare I say, even perhaps our very
    evolutionary process?

     
    Most
    importantly, remember that you are, in the end, a public servant and
    that because you have used my life as a punching bag your legacy is in
    danger of becoming a punchline.

     
    Okay, then. I’m going to go now. We both have work to do.

     
    I
    just wanted to let you know that (as my grandmother would say) “Imma
    be alright” because the fringes can be fabulous and the water is just
    fine…

     
    Yours in sisterhood,
    Doria