Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll offended gay rights advocates for saying "women who look like" her are not lesbians. (Photo by Jess Liotta and Colin Liotta.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

In an attempt to defend herself against allegations of an improper relationship with a female staff member, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll made a bizarre, if not insulting, remark.

Carroll told a reporter:

“The problem is that when you have these accusations that come out, 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. For twenty-nine years – I’m the one that’s married for twenty-nine years. The accuser is the one that’s been single for a long time. So usually black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that.”

An ex-aide of Carroll’s, Carletha Cole, has said that she allegedly walked in on Carroll and a female staffer in a compromising position. Cole was fired and is now in legal hot water for releasing a taped conversation between Carroll and her chief of staff to a newspaper.

Carroll has so far denied the allegations. However, her most recent defense has insulted members of the gay community in Florida.

Nadine Smith of Equality Florida wrote an op-ed for the Grio aimed at Carroll:

I’m not sure what kind of extensive research she has done to come to that conclusion about black lesbians but perhaps she’ll publish her findings.

There are many ways for a person to deny accusations, but Lt. Gov. Carroll reached into her anti-gay bag of tricks and ended up hurling a series of stereotypes about women, lesbians and black people in one fell swoop. The hyper, nervous giggling didn’t help matters.

What did and didn’t happen in her office I’ll leave for others to suss out.  But let’s get to the coded language Lt. Gov. Carroll was tossing about and why it has to be challenged.

Saying that women who “look like” her aren’t lesbians renders a whole lot of lesbians invisible. And that invisibility has consequences.

We live in a culture that continues to ignore the lives, needs and health of black lesbians by rendering us invisible. Carroll reinforces that invisibility by perpetuating the misconception that all lesbian and same-gender loving women look and act the same, virtually erasing the diverse array of Black lesbians.  And if lesbians look a certain way, Lt. Gov. Carroll, tell us, what do straight black women look like? In putting a fence around what lesbians are supposed to “look like” she corrals acceptable black heterosexual womens’ appearance as well …

So passed all the “wink, wink” phrasing and caricatures of what gay people look like, let me answer your question: Yes Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, you do look like a black lesbian. You also look like a bisexual black woman and a heterosexual black woman too. And yes, some Black lesbians are gym coaches and some are models or elected leaders. Some are homeless and some anchor the news. Some are janitors and soldiers and fashion designers or pastors or chemical engineers. We come in all shapes and sizes and political and religious persuasions. Many of us look a lot like you.

The Florida Democratic Party has also jumped in. According to the Huffington Post:

Amid uproar over her comment “black women that look like me don’t engage in [lesbian relationships],” Florida’s Democratic Party has demanded an apology from Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll.

“Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll has embarrassed our state with her public comments insulting the gay and lesbian community,” wrote party chairman Rod Smith. “Her generalities about what Black lesbians ‘look like’ were ignorant, irrelevant and unnecessarily hostile.”

While it is possible that the media and/or civil rights groups are misconstruing her words, Carroll has yet to clarify what she meant when she said “women who look like me.” The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported:

The lieutenant governor’s office has not offered any clarification of those remarks, while Carroll continues to maintain that she has been falsely accused. Supportive emails from her supporters are pouring into her office, with Carroll personally thanking many of them.

“Art thanks for your support and you are correct this is a lie and a malicious attack against me,” Carroll told one of her supporters in an email Monday.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office has also denied the allegations against Carroll, calling them absurd.