After an online petition drive garnered hundreds of signatures demanding her apology, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll on Thursday apologized to the head of an advocacy group saying that her anti-gay comment two weeks ago was "wrong and inexcusable."
Equality Florida, a civil rights group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians, launched the online petition campaign this week after Carroll told a Tampa television station on July 14 that "usually black women that look like me don’t engage in relationships like that."
Carroll was responding to allegations from former aide Carletha Cole, who, in court documents as part of a criminal case, said she caught Carroll and her travel aide in a "compromising position.”
Cole, 51, was charged last October with giving an illegally taped conversation to a newspaper reporter and had been fired her job as a senior program analyst for “conduct unbecoming.”
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"It is wrong and inexcusable to make a comment that hurts people, and that was not my intention,’’ Carroll wrote in a letter to Equality Florida director Nadine Smith. "As a Christian, my faith guides me to love and respect all people. The false charges that have been lodged against me are no excuse for what I have said that may have been hurtful to members of your organization and to other Floridians.
"Please know that I am committed to treating every person with the utmost courtesy, respect and dignity and I hope you will accept my heartfelt apology,’’ she wrote.
Smith said she spoke to Carroll after receiving a fax of the letter and thanked Carroll "for taking responsibility for her words."
"Lt. Governor Carroll expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to communicate her commitment to treating everyone with respect and dignity,’’ Smith said in a statement. "She invited Equality Florida to reach out to her office if she could be of assistance and I offered our organization as a resource as well."
Smith commended Carroll for her response. "Apologies by elected leaders for public mistakes are rare and it is to the Lt. Governor’s credit that she has taken this step.
"In Florida, which has no statewide legal protections from discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, the words of our elected leaders matter a great deal,’’ she said.
Smith had written a biting opinion piece on TheGrio.com, an NBC News-affiliated website covering the nation’s African-American community. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and various gay rights activists also criticized Carroll’s statements.
“As a black lesbian from Florida, I personally felt the sting of Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll’s words,’’ Smith wrote. "Instead of simply denying the claims, she stereotyped black lesbians in order to deflect her own. With that one quick statement, Lt. Governor Carroll appealed to racial and homophobic stereotypes that do real harm.”