“I think the only way we’re going to get out of this is that we have to push through this,” State Senator Shevrin Jones tells GAY TIMES, referencing the overwhelming amount of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced in the United States this year. As of 7 June, the Human Rights Campaign said more than 75 had been passed – a number already higher than any year on record. In many ways, Florida, the state Senator Jones is from and was elected to office in, has been at the epicentre of this. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill into law in March 2022 and, more recently, the presidential hopeful passed what was deemed the “largest slate of anti-LGBTQ bills in Florida history” with laws targeting drag shows, which bathrooms people use and gender-affirming care, among other things. “What people can understand and people can see is that you’re not going to scare us off, you’re not going to create a space where we feel as if we have to continuously try to legitimise ourselves,” Senator Jones continued. “It’s just not who we should be as a country and should not be who we are as a state.”
Speaking to GAY TIMES during Miami Beach Pride in April, Senator Jones, a Democrat who is the first openly LGBTQ+ Black person elected to the Florida Legislature, acknowledged the importance for politicians like himself being out and proud of who they are. “People have to see those who represent them in leadership, that they represent all people – it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting for the LGBTQ+ community, the immigrant community, the Black community – people need to know that if you have a seat at the table, that they’re welcome at that table that you sit at or you represent them at the table,” he explained. Senator Jones also touched on the “unfortunate” travel warning Equality Florida recently issued, which warned LGBTQ+ people against visiting Florida. “Florida is really one of the top destination places in this country and the fact that the NAACP, Equality Florida and other organisations are now warning people not to come to Florida is disheartening,” he said. “But it’s also a sign that hatred is expensive and so, if Florida has to feel it because of your hate laws that you have, and Florida has to feel it because of the bigotry that the governor is spewing across the country, then so be it.” Here, GAY TIMES speaks to Senator Jones about Pride, the array of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed in the US and the importance of representation in politics.
How have you found this year’s Miami Beach Pride so far?
It’s been good. It was hot, it was extremely hot. But just to see everyone out and everyone’s just having a good time, it just goes to show the things that are happening across this country is just a false narrative. People are happy, people just want to live their life and people want to just spend time with their families and friends and that’s what we saw today.
Why do you think it’s so important for the LGBTQ+ community to see politicians like yourselves taking part in Pride so openly?
People have to see those who represent them in leadership, that they represent all people – it doesn’t matter if you’re fighting for the LGBTQ+ community, the immigrant community, the Black community – people need to know that if you have a seat at the table, that they’re welcome at that table that you sit at or you represent them at the table. I think far too often with leaders, it’s ‘us against them’ or ‘this is me up here and you’re down there’. I think people respect people who are in the trenches with them and, as hot as it was, I was okay with just being in the trenches.
The atmosphere at Pride in Miami has been really positive and everyone seems to be having a great time, but there is definitely a slightly different atmosphere given everything that is going on in the US in terms of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Why do you think we need to still hold Pride celebrations like this one?
Yeah, I mean, what we see that is happening across the country right now and especially, particularly here in Florida, I can’t describe how angry I was out there today because of the policies that are being passed in Tallahassee and across the country. While walking I saw a dad and a son and the dad was playing with a Pride flag with his son. He wasn’t indoctrinating that child, that child was just having a good time with his father. I think it’s important to have these types of events to remind all of us that we’re in this together. We have to continue to learn how to live amongst each other collectively and collaborate with each other to do whatever needs to be done to create a more holistic world. I’m sorry it sounds so, I don’t know, bookish, but the moment that we’re in calls for us just to be true. We live amongst each other and having Pride events in the face of all this happening is exactly what needs to happen in the face of DeSantis, in the face of the Republicans, to let them know that this is not going anywhere. I don’t care what bills you pass, Pride is here to stay, the LGBTQ community is here to stay.
You just touched on it, but there have been more than 500 bills introduced this year alone targeting the LGBTQ+ community, many of which were in Florida. What’s your reaction to the overwhelming amount of legislation at the moment?
Well, one, I think it’s important to point out why this is happening. The reason a lot of this stuff is happening across the country is that there is a misunderstanding or a lack of understanding for a lot of these politicians and what they know of the LGBTQ+ community and then the narrative of those who support, or who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, they’re calling us groomers and paedophiles and I didn’t see any of that out there today. What I saw was a total pushback on the policies that are happening in Florida and I think that you’re going to continue to see more of that happening as we continue to move forward.
What would you say the LGBTQ+ community can do to stand up against a lot of this legislation, particularly in states where the Republicans hold a supermajority?
Don’t operate in fear, protect yourself, but don’t operate in fear. I think the only way we’re going to get out of this is that we have to push through this. What people can understand and people can see is that you’re not going to scare us off, you’re not going to create a space where we feel as if we have to continuously try to legitimise ourselves. It’s just not who we should be as a country and should not be who we are as a state. I personally am very clear that as human beings, that’s all people want to be treated as, human beings. Whether you agree or disagree with somebody’s life, you can keep that to yourself. Everyone just wants to live a life where they can enjoy it, provide for their family and go back home safely to their family. That’s what people want, but what’s happening in this country when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community is that there’s a fear that’s now and there’s an aura and an atmosphere that has been created to where now people, part of the LGBTQ+ community, find themselves hiding behind, not really showing who they are, because they’re fearful of what happens on the other side of that truth.
Equality Florida recently put out a travel warning advising LGBTQ+ people to avoid Florida. What do you make of that?
That’s unfortunate. Florida is really one of the top destination places in this country and the fact that the NAACP, Equality Florida and other organisations are now warning people not to come to Florida is disheartening. But it’s also a sign that hatred is expensive and so, if Florida has to feel it because of your hate laws that you have, and Florida has to feel it because of the bigotry that the governor is spewing across the country, then so be it. But hatred is expensive.
What would your message be to LGBTQ+ people fearful of coming to Florida?
That we are not what they’re passing in Tallahassee. That’s just not Florida and has never been Florida and, like my grandmother used to say, this too, shall pass. Individuals, when they feel like power is being taken away from them, this is what you get, you get this extremism. I can’t even put words to this moment that we’re in right now. I guess extremism is where I land right now. You get this when you’re in this moment right now and I have to continue to say that the only way that we get out of this is rejecting it, pushing back and continue not to amplify the bigotry, the hatred, and amplify love, amplify togetherness, amplify collaboration, so people can see that you are the minority, not the majority.
Despite everything that’s happening, we are seeing some politicians stand up for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as openly LGBTQ+ politicians being their true selves. Why is this kind of representation so vital?
There is this old saying that if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu. I’m just happy to have a seat at the table.