Carson Battles Adversity To Make A Difference

As we have done in years past, SFGN commemorates the year’s end with our annual local Achievement in Excellence Awards, celebrating individuals who have distinguished themselves by hard work and honest effort, lending credibility and commitment not only to their cause, but to our entire community. We congratulate this year's honorees, Mark Hunter, Julie Carson and Anthony Timiraos.

For Julie Carson, 2015 has seen struggle and success. The Wilton Manors Commissioner, a longtime advocate for LGBT rights and causes, celebrated the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision with pride, but unbeknownst to many of her constituents, was battling with deeper issues.

“In 2015 my partner was diagnosed with cancer and we ended our 15-year relationship,” Carson said. “I lost a partner, a home and I had to regroup. It’s not a sad story, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

Carson, Broward County’s first lesbian elected to public office, has held a seat on the Wilton Manors Commission since 2007. She says people often comment how readily accessible she is by telephone and email.

“I’ve had people say they never knew they could call their commissioner,” Carson said.

As one of SFGN’s recipients for the 2015 Achievement in Excellence Award, Carson’s story reveals the journey to authenticity many in the Deep South experience.

Born in southeast Missouri, Carson spent her college years around Nashville, Tenn. where she developed her love of horses, triathlon and Tikkan Olam – a term in Judaism for repairing the world.

“I spent a lot of time teaching Hebrew at the synagogue,” she said of her formative years. “Acting through good will is something we are commanded to do. There is no choice and I continue to do that.”

Faith aside, Carson admits to living a “fragmented life” in Tennessee and so, 16 years ago, she left after falling “madly in love” with another woman. The relationship led Carson to South Florida where she started working as a paralegal at the real estate law firm in North Miami Beach.

“Living a fragmented life like I was doing in Tennessee is not really a healthy thing to do,” she admits. “Wilton Manors makes it a lot easier for people to live authentic lives. It’s a safe haven in many ways.”

As Commissioner, Carson says she is proud of advocating for schools, animal rights and spearheading the city’s tax equitable domestic partnership policy.

“Several years ago, Julie helped organize an important round table that helped advance pro-equality ordinances in Wilton Manors and other cities,” said her close friend and activist Michael Rajner. “Most recently when Broward County expanded its Domestic Partnership Act, she used herself as an example and shared publicly with the Broward County Board of County Commissioners on the important role the county’s Domestic Partnership Act has been during a family health crisis.”

In her interview with SFGN, Carson shed some light on what is rarely discussed openly among public servants.

“It is difficult to live a public life, but more so on the partner than the ones actually doing it,” she said.

In addition to her work in Wilton Manors, Carson has helped with other campaigns, working to elect Katie Edwards to the Florida House of Representatives and currently assisting Betsy Benson’s campaign for Broward County Circuit Judge. She has received numerous awards for her service, most recently recognized by the civil rights organization Equality Florida for her steadfast commitment to transgender issues.

“Julie is passionate about making a difference to improve the lives of others,” Rajner said. “She often takes the time to listen to a person's story. Recently a mother shared with Julie a sample of bureaucratic walls she encounters while advocating her child who is transgender. The next day, Julie spent time speaking with School Board Chair Osgood to identify those challenges, why it's important and possible solutions.”

 OpEd: Saluting Success in 2015