Jorge Diaz-Johnston, whose body was found Saturday in a Jackson County landfill, was a plaintiff in a historic lawsuit that ended with Miami-Dade becoming the first county in the state to legalize same-sex marriages.
Diaz-Johnston, 54, a former doctoral student of religion at Florida State University, was also the brother of Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party and former mayor of Miami.
Manny Diaz issued a statement saying he was “profoundly appreciative” of the outpouring of support in the wake of his brother’s death and asked for both privacy and prayers.
“My brother was such a special gift to this world whose heart and legacy will continue to live on for generations to come,” he said.
The lawsuit began in early 2014 when Jorge, 54, his husband, Don Diaz-Johnston and five other same-sex couples sued the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office after they were barred from getting marriage licenses. In June, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel announced her decision in favor of the couples.
And while there was a temporary stay in the case, it was lifted several months later, prompting Jorge, his husband, and the other couples to erupt in cheers. A federal judge tossed the state’s same-sex marriage ban in early 2015, making Florida the 36th state to allow gay couples to wed. Jorge and Don got married on March 28, 2015.
“Jorge was a crucial part of this historic lawsuit that’s one of the biggest moments of the LGBTQ civil rights movement in Florida history,” said Stratton Pollitzer, the longtime deputy director of Equality Florida, the state’s leading gay-rights group. “It’s incomprehensible to hear that one of our heroes has been taken from us.”
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said she was heartbroken to learn of Diaz-Johnston’s death, which investigators say was the result of foul play.
“Jorge and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped pave the way for marriage equality for all Floridians,” she said. “Our deepest condolences Don and Jorge’s extended family.”
Jorge was last seen on Jan. 3 in the 2800 block of Remington Green Circle near his workplace, according to the Tallahassee Police Department, which issued a missing person alert Saturday morning.
A family friend wrote on Facebook that morning that Jorge was missing and that he was last seen around 3 p.m. He did not have his car with him, the friend said.
His body was discovered later that afternoon in the landfill. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that investigators believed the body came from outside the county.
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