Remembering Jorge Diaz-Johnston, LGBTQ+ Advocate Who Helped Bring Marriage Equality To Florida

by Jose Soto

In 2014, Jorge Diaz-Johnston and his husband Don Johnston, along with five other couples, filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County to challenge Florida’s ban on marriage equality. The lawsuit became historic as a Florida court ruled in favor of the couples in 2015 and brought marriage equality to the state. Diaz-Johnston was found dead in a Jackson County landfill on Jan. 8, days after he went missing from his home in Tallahassee, Florida. He was 54 years old.

The Human Rights Campaign joins his loved ones and the LGBTQ+ community at large in mourning the death of Diaz-Johnston.

An LGBTQ+ advocate, Diaz-Johnston was a recent doctoral student at Florida State University. He was also the brother of Florida Democratic Party chair and former mayor of Miami, Manny Diaz.

Diaz-Johnston worked directly with our community partners Equality Florida in their efforts to establish marriage equality in the state. On social media, Equality Florida showed appreciation for Diaz-Johnston’s and his husband’s involvement in bringing marriage equality to Florida and shared their condolences. In an article, Equality Florida’s Deputy Director Stratton Pollitzer said it was “incomprehensible to hear that one of our heroes has been taken from us."

According to news reports and Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Diaz-Johnston’s body was found in trash collected in Okaloosa County which was transferred to Jackson County by a garbage transportation company. The sheriff’s news release states that the metal bay at the Baker landfill in Okaloosa County is “accessible to any company or individual.” The same report suggests that a scheduled autopsy will be conducted to determine an exact cause of death. The Tallahassee Police Department department is conducting an investigation and have asked anyone with more information to contact detectives.

In a state where we are tirelessly pushing to achieve full equality, hearing about the tragic loss of a fearless LGBTQ+ advocate reminds us that we must continue to push forward, even in the face of tragedy. Diaz-Johnston’s commitment, as well as his husband’s and the other couples and plaintiffs in the case which secured marriage equality for LGBTQ+ Floridians will forever be honored. We at HRC send our condolences to everyone affected by his death.”

Ryan Wilson, HRC Associate Regional Field Director, Southern U.S.

On HRC’s State Equality Index, Florida was rated as “High Priority To Achieve Basic Equality” and has yet to implement many essential non-discrimination laws — Diaz-Johnston's death is yet another example of the greater risk of violence and death faced by LGBTQ+ people.