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Lt Gov Carroll says sorry to gay rights advocates, calls remark 'wrong' and 'inexcusable'

Sascha Cordner

An apology made to the gay rights community is the latest in the controversy between Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll and her former staffer. Carroll’s apology stems from a comment she made more than two weeks ago that some thought implied black lesbians aren’t attractive. She made the remark while trying to defend herself against claims that she and a female aide were caught in “a compromising position.”

In early July, Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll tried to stand up for herself and her family as allegations were made that she and a female travel aide Beatriz Ramos were caught in “a sexually compromising position.” Here she is speaking to WTSP Channel 10 News in Tampa.

“The problem is that when you have these accusations that come out. It’s not just one person that you’re attacking. It’s an entire family. My husband doesn’t want to hear that. He knows the type of woman I am, and my kids know the type of woman I am. For 29 years, I’m the one that’s been married for 29 years. The accuser is the one that’s single for a long time. Usually, black women who look like me don’t engage in relationships like that,” Carroll said.

Fired Staffer, Carletha Cole, made the allegations as part of her defense in a criminal case against her. Cole is charged with secretly taping a conversation between herself and Carroll’s Chief of Staff John Konkus. Cole then allegedly gave it to a newspaper reporter.

But, Carroll’s comments caused quite an uproar…

“Her generalities about what black lesbians look like were ignorant, irrelevant, and unnecessarily hostile,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the state’s Democratic Party.

He says Carroll tried to deflect the claims made against her by appealing to a certain stereotype of black women as well as the gay community.

“The LGBT community is a valued part of the rich diversity that is Florida, and it is sad to see an elected leader relying on unfair stereotypes to deflect criticism,” said Bergstein.

Those were the same thoughts of Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Florida’s largest gay rights group Equality Florida. She organized a national petition Wednesday, calling on the Lieutenant Governor to apologize for her remarks.

And, late Thursday, Smith got her wish. Carroll’s chief of staff faxed a letter of apology, and Carroll later apologized to Smith herself over the phone.

"And, we had a brief conversation. She reiterated and she wanted to offer her personal heartfelt apology for the word she chose and described them as wrong and inexcusable and wanted to personally as well as in writing offer that apology. And, I thought it was the right thing for her to do in offering that apology,” said Smith.

Smith says she’s thankful that Carroll took responsibility for her words, saying it’s rare for elected leaders to apologize for their public mistakes.

State Attorney Willie Meggs tried an attempt at stopping everyone from “trying the case in the media” by seeking a gag order.

But, his gag order to silence both Cole and her lawyers was later denied by Judge Frank Sheffield Tuesday.

“I’m not going to enter a gag order, but I’m expecting compliance with the rules of professional conduct,” Sheffield warned.

Cole’s lawyer, Steven Andrews, says while the judge dismissed the gag order, both sides had a private meeting with the judge and agreed to tone down their comments in the media.

Andrews says that includes not discussing the evidence in the Carletha Cole case.

“The judge told both sides to re-read the Florida Bar rules about pre-trial publicity and so, I’m not saying we’ll never talk about it again, we’re just not going to be talking about it all the time,” said Andrews.

So far, in addition to filing court documents that Carroll was seen by ex-staffer Cole in a compromising position with her female aide, Beatriz Ramos, Cole’s defense lawyers have also accused Ramos of setting fire to a trash can in Cole’s office in retaliation.

But, when they called for an investigation into the incident, they were denied.

Right now both sides, Cole’s lawyers and the state attorney’s office, are considering the people they may want to interview as part of the case.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.