This conversation was with Florida State Senator Shevrin Jones, of the 35th Senate District in Miami, Florida. The interview below was edited for clarity.
What inspired me to run for office was being a teacher in the classroom, because I did not like how teachers were being treated by our elected officials. At that time, I was teaching level one students, and the policymakers did not know and they often still don’t know how their policies affect children in the classroom.
First, I ran for County Commissioner, and I lost that race. But as the universe would have it, shortly after that I ran for Florida state representative, and I won that race. I wasn’t yet identifying as a LGBTQ+ person – I was married to a woman at that point in my life, and I had been raised in a very Christian, conservative household. However, I knew that if I wanted to be transparent while talking about policy, I needed to make sure I was being true to who I am and encouraging others to be true to who they are. After my ex-wife – who is now one of my closest friends – and I had a rough separation and I moved on to living in my truth, I came out publicly. So I was already an elected official when I came out as being a gay man.
Ultimately, that’s what the people wanted – someone who could lead them, someone who spoke to their values. It’s been refreshing, because people in this day and age are looking for something different, but when I was running for the state senate, people weren’t looking at my sexuality. People were looking at my leadership, they were looking for leadership, and so that’s what we presented to them. They knew who I was, they knew my sexuality, they knew my partner, and they knew my parents, but they wanted to know me and what was I going to do for them.
I was campaigning right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, so on the campaign trail, people were asking about their job, their children’s education, or their unemployment. What my opponents thought was going to be a knock against me actually worked out in my favor in a very real way. There were six people in that race, and we walked away with almost 47% of the vote. Why? Because hate and bigotry never win.
During that election, we were in the middle Donald Trump’s administration and the narrative back then was so dominated by his antics. People were really sick and tired of the divided and hateful tone that was so prevalent in American politics, and so we used that to our advantage to show that our time is now to bridge the gap between who we are as America and who we can be. We built that into our election and we won, and now I am the first and only LGBTQ+ person to be elected to the Florida state senate. Being a Florida state senator has been a pleasure, because it has allowed me to show up as my true self, and that’s the best version of myself. Being able to present that to people has been refreshing and rewarding.
My identity as a LGBTQ+ lawmaker has done two things: It has allowed me to be more empathetic, and it has also allowed me the opportunity to speak to other individuals who don’t know how to live as their true self. Whether you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community or whether you’re not, it doesn’t matter – there is a side of all of us that we don’t show because we don’t know how people will look at us if they know our full selves. That’s what I’m most happy about being able to represent when I wake up every morning when I talk to people, whether to a group in person or whether it’s through Zoom. Being able to show people that your full self is your best you.
Even as proud as I am of who I am and who I exemplify to the world as an LGBTQ+ elected official, I’d rather not be boxed in. I think that’s how many people get stuck in one lane, and it’s important to realize that while fighting for LGBTQ+ issues, you can and should also fight for other issues – social justice issues, economic justice issues, environmental justice issues, and more, because all of these things are being attacked by individuals who want to see us fail or who don’t believe that we should have our rights. By being able to show up and step outside of the box of just being a LGBTQ+ elected official, I’m able to show my whole self as being someone who fights for the rights of all people.
My identity as a LGBTQ+ state senator makes me a better American because it allows me to show up as my full self and it allows me to be empathetic. Being boxed in is not a good way to lead. Being able to step outside of the box to do other things, from social justice to environmental justice to economic justice, is where I’ve found the most fulfillment. I truly believe that being a LGBTQ+ American and being a LGBTQ+ state senator allows me the opportunity to fight on many fronts, because I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, to be treated badly, to be ostracized. Being able to fight for the rights of all people is what I believe by my identity as a LGBTQ+ American stands for, and I am so happy that being a part of the LGBTQ+ community speaks volumes. As I’ve been saying a lot this month, Pride is protest, and we must continue to fight for those things that are for the betterment of all people.
We need more LGBTQ+ representation because of one saying that I truly believe in: if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu. It is extremely important that we have representation on all fronts, that goes from being LGBTQ+, to being Black, to being indigenous, it doesn’t matter – all representation matters. Diverse representation paints the truest picture of who America is. Until we get to a place where from the courtroom to the boardroom, everybody is represented the right way, there truly is no justice or truth in our democracy. Everyone deserves to be represented in this thing we call America.
The only thing I would like to add this Pride Month is to thank everyone for showing up as their true self every day. Trust me, there’s somebody that’s out there that’s watching them, there’s somebody that’s thanking them for doing just that. It’s important because as we show up as our true selves, we not only free others, but we also free ourselves.