Jorge Diaz
Don Johnston (left) and Jorge Diaz (right) wait to speak to the media and supporters after the court hearing on marriage equality in Miami in 2014. (J Pat Carter/AP/Shutterstock)

Jorge Diaz-Johnston, Gay Rights Activist Who Helped Usher Marriage Equality in the US, Found Dead in Florida

In a tragic loss for the LGBTQ community, Florida marriage equality activist Jorge Diaz-Johnston has been found dead in what appears to be a still-unsolved murder.

Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald reported that “Diaz-Johnston, 54, had been missing since Jan. 3. His body was found in a trash pile at a landfill in Jackson County on Jan. 15 around 9:30 a.m. He was last seen in the 2800 block of Remington Green Circle in Tallahassee, where Diaz-Johnston lived with his husband, Don Johnston.” 

Although Tallahassee Police have ruled Diaz-Johnston’s death a homicide, they have yet to release details from his autopsy regarding the manner of death. 

In addition to being a plaintiff in the landmark Miami-Dade County same-sex marriage lawsuit that helped usher in marriage equality in the U.S., Diaz-Johnston was also the brother of Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. Before working for the Democratic party, Diaz served as mayor of Miami from 2001 to 2009.

According to Ocasio, Jorge Diaz-Johnston and his husband Don were “one of six couples, and the only one from Miami, who were part of a major lawsuit filed in 2014 in Miami-Dade County challenging Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage. A county judge ruled the Florida ban unconstitutional almost a full year before the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in 2015 deciding that all states should recognize marriage licenses from same-sex couples.”

In a statement, Manny Diaz said of his brother’s passing: “I am profoundly appreciative of the outpouring of support shown to me, my brother-in-law Don, and my family after the loss of my brother, Jorge Diaz-Johnston. My brother was such a special gift to this world whose heart and legacy will continue to live on for generations to come.” 

Orlando Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ rights organization SAVE Foundation, worked with Diaz-Johnston during his historic lawsuit and was shocked to hear of his death.

“It makes this a tremendous loss when somebody with those types of characteristics is gone way too soon and is gone in such an incredibly horrific manner,” he told Ocasio. “There’s no way to, I think, make up for somebody who was on the front line in fighting for human equality.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida and another plaintiff in the Miami-Dade lawsuit, issued her own statement after news of Diaz-Johnston’s death broke, saying she was “heartbroken” by the loss.

“He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Smith said. “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.” 

In a Facebook post, his husband Don wrote: “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband, Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So, I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.” 

Tallahassee police detectives said the case involving Diaz-Johnston’s murder is still under active investigation and are asking for anyone in the community who might have information on a potential killer, motive or other information in the case to call them directly.

 

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