Florida State Senator Shevrin ‘Shev’ Jones is someone we think we’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future.
The 38-year-old made headlines with an impassioned speech he gave in the Senate chamber in March. Lawmakers were debating HB 1557, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say gay” bill. Now passed into law, it bans the discussion of LGBTQ topics in schools. It also limits discussion when “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.
For Jones, the issue was personal. He’s gay and acutely aware of how hard it can be to embrace one’s sexuality.
"Thoughts ran through my mind after I lost my brother, because I never got a chance to tell him. So I ask you all, whatever this bill is supposed to do, let this bill do that…but please, do no harm."@shevrinjones , FL's first openly-LGBTQ State Sen., with powerful remarks. pic.twitter.com/sz1j6hoqDl
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) March 7, 2022
He didn’t come out publicly until four years ago, when he was already an elected Representative but before becoming a Senator in 2020. Prior to that, he had been married to a woman for several years.
Jones was born in Miami Gardens, Florida. His father, Eric, is a pastor and the former West Park Mayor.
“My parents were conservative,” he told the Miami Herald in 2018. “My parents raised my brothers and me to be truthful and be honest. I knew I was gay back in kindergarten. I knew it. I got married and my ex-wife — I love her. She’s amazing.”
“She and I were friends for 10 years at school. When I married her I loved her then. But I loved her too much to continue to lie to her and lie to my family. I have to be honest.”
Jones separated from his wife in 2012 and came out to his family around 2013. It was following the sudden death of his brother, Kaneil, in September 2017 that he decided to be more open about his identity with the wider world.
“I was like, that could have been me,” Jones says. “I could drop dead living behind the scenes of something that could have helped someone else. I started living my truth just a little bit more.”
Although he’d already served three terms as a Representative, when Jones was elected to the Senate he became the first out, Black LGBTQ lawmaker elected to the Florida legislature.
Drawing on his own experiences, he used the “Don’t Say Gay” debate as an opportunity to explain to colleagues how painful it is for LGBTQ kids growing up, many of whom are scared of disappointing their parents.
He also appealed to them to do right by queer youth, even if it upset some of their constituents.
“Thoughts ran through my mind after I lost my brother, because I never got a chance to tell him. So I ask you all, whatever this bill is supposed to do, let this bill do that…but please, do no harm.”@shevrinjones , FL’s first openly-LGBTQ State Sen., with powerful remarks. pic.twitter.com/sz1j6hoqDl
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) March 7, 2022
“When I see these kids, I don’t think y’all understand how much courage it takes to show up every day,” Jones said, getting emotional. “I ask that you open up your hearts a tad bit. Don’t think about whether you can get re-elected or not.”
Jones was one of several Democrats to propose amendments to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Unfortunately they were all voted down and the homophobic legislation was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on March 28. It takes effect July 1.
Jones, who lives with his partner in West Park but will soon be moving back to his childhood home of Miami Gardens, says the vagueness of the short bill was one of the things he found most concerning.
It “creates not just confusion, but it leaves it up for interpretation” in the legal system, he told Gay Times last month, adding that it has created a “stain” on the Florida legislature. He also said it only came about because some on the right are scared of progress.
“They understand that this is a moving train and want to slow things down, but they can’t.”
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Instead, Jones wishes lawmakers would focus on other pressing issues. In a statement on the signing of HB 1557, he said, “Discriminatory pieces of legislation like this fail to solve the critical issues impacting Floridians’ everyday lives — from the skyrocketing cost of housing and everyday necessities like groceries and gas, to the healthcare access gap and teacher shortage.”
“We should embrace students’ differences and uplift them through these most crucial stages of development. Our shared future depends on it.”
Don’t Say Gay bill that was just signed by @GovRonDeSantis is just another stain on FL history. The party of “less government” is becoming the party of authoritarianism & censorship.
To every LGBTQ child, parent, and ally – we see you, we love you, and the fight has just begun.
— Shevrin “Shev” Jones (@ShevrinJones) March 28, 2022
We’re proud of Jones for sharing his story and using his position in the Florida State Senate to speak out against homophobia no matter what the cost, and for being such an incredible example for LGBTQ people both in his home state and around the country.