There’s no denying there was a rainbow wave on election night with LGBT candidates across the country making historic gains at the state and federal level. One such person many articles in Florida mentioned was Teri Johnston as Florida’s first lesbian mayor.
Except that’s not accurate – not even close.
In Palm Beach County alone there has been at least two openly lesbian mayors, both of whom SFGN has covered in the past.
The misinformation seems to originated from a press release sent out by Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization.
“In municipal breakthroughs, Teri Johnston became the first lesbian candidate elected mayor of a Florida city with her history-making win in Key West,” the article reads.
Many publications around Florida ended up writing about Johnston’s historic win including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times – both publications though altered their stories once they were contacted. The Associated Press, a news wire that many media outlets around the world rely on for stories also got it wrong.
Rand Hoch, an LGBT activist and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, spent time this week contacting the various publications to correct the record.
“I’m a volunteer LGBTQ activist and it shouldn’t be my job to correct ‘one of our state’s largest’ LGBTQ news sources,” Hoch wrote to SFGN. “But it seems like I keep having to do that.”
Hoch has tussled with Equality Florida many times in the past over LGBT rights issues and LGBT information relating to Palm Beach County.
“You would think that after 22 years, Equality Florida would maintain a list of openly LGBTQ elected officials in Florida,” Hoch said. “But apparently, they don’t. It’s not like the list is huge!”
Victory Fund, a national LGBT organization that helps elects openly LGBT candidates, also got it wrong. On their website they had a profile page for Johnston stating “Teri will be Florida first Lesbian Mayor.” It was corrected Friday to read “”Teri will be one of Florida’s first lesbian mayors.”
The Miami Herald began their story like this “Teri Johnston didn’t know she was about to make Florida history as the first openly gay woman elected mayor in a major Florida city.”
Hoch said the original story did not include the word “major.” But even so few people would describe Key West as a major city in Florida with a population of only 26,000.
“LGBT people are still very underrepresented in elected office and bring an all too rare perspective to the political discourse, which is evidenced by the fact that Teri Johnston is the first lesbian candidate ever elected mayor in our state,” Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida, told the Miami Herald.
The Herald then noted “Pollitzer said there has been an openly lesbian mayor in Florida, but she only came out while in office. Johnston is the first lesbian elected mayor in a major Florida city, he said.”
Hoch though disputes that assertion as well. And SFGN has written about James and Koutzen in the past. Hoch goes on to add there was a third lesbian mayor in Palm Beach County at one time but he’s unsure how open she was.
Koutzen told SFGN earlier this year “The people in my town all know who I am and [my sexuality] doesn’t seem to play a role in whether they vote for me, don’t vote for me, support me, don’t support me,” she said. “It’s a very small town, so I have a personal relationship with many of the voters.”