A three-term Florida state representative and potential lieutenant governor nominee has come out as gay.
Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Broward County in south Florida, had been quietly coming out to colleagues in the legislature as he was going through a divorce from his wife a few years ago, the Miami Herald reports. Now he’s come out publicly by letting Equality Florida list him as one of its endorsed LGBTQ candidates.
When Equality Florida asked his permission, “I said I don’t know if that’s the way I want to have a coming-out party,” Jones told the Herald. “Then I was like, ‘You know what, go ahead. It’s fine.’”
Jones said the death of his older brother last year inspired him to open his closet door wider. “My brother died at the age of 34,” said Jones, who is that age now. “I was like, that could have been me. 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.”
Jones was married to a woman when he was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012, but he said he’d known he was gay most of his life. He separated from his wife in 2012, and their divorce became final three years later.
“I was a married man,” Jones, the son of a minister, told the Herald as he detailed his coming-out path. “My parents were conservative. 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 even lives in my district — 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 said he also struggled with the consequences of having been molested by a family friend when he was in middle school. He finally told his parents about it when he was going through his divorce, and he sought counseling, which further inspired him to come out, he told the Herald.
While Florida will hold its primary election next week and the general election is in November, Jones was already considered, under Florida’s system, to be reelected in June, as no other candidate, Democrat or Republican, qualified for the ballot by the June 22 deadline. But he is considering other political options, such as running for state Senate, and he “has also been floated as a possible lieutenant governor pick if Gwen Graham wins the Democratic nomination for governor next week,” the Herald reports.
Jones’s coming-out makes him Florida’s first openly gay African-American legislator. Two other politicians are trying for the distinction of being Florida’s first black lawmaker to be elected while out from the get-go — Cedric McMinn and Paulette Armstead. Both are nonincumbents running for state House this year.
Jones, who now lives with a male partner in Hollywood, Fla., said he’s not worried that coming out will hurt his political career. “Mark my words: Now that I’m living my truth, if I am never elected again, I’m OK with that,” he told the Herald. “Because there are so many people right now who are in office, in places of high stature, who are not living truthful lives and they sleep with that lie on a daily basis. If me living my truth is a reason to vote against me or vote me out, then I’m OK with that.”
But his coming-out is significant for LGBTQ Floridians, said Equality Florida senior political director Joe Saunders, who was one of Florida’s first out state representatives. “It’s really powerful and important that Shevrin has decided to step into the sun in the way that he has this year,” Saunders told the paper. “It’s been a mission of Equality Florida since its founding to increase LGBTQ representation in every level of government. To know that Rep. Shevrin Jones will be in Tallahassee as an out and proud gay man standing next to his LGBTQ colleagues is an exciting thing, and it’s going to make the state a better place.”