Shevrin Jones, seeking to become Florida's first out state senator, is being attacked in homophobic text messages since the news came out that he was turned down in an attempt to donate plasma.
A robotext was sent Sunday to voters in his district saying, "The Miami Herald reported that Shevrin Jones was discriminated against for recent homosexual contact." It linked to a website called ShevJones.com, which is not Jones's official campaign site, where the only page was a verbatim copy of the Herald's story about the blood center's rejection of Jones, the Miami paper reports.
Jones, who is currently a state representative, and his mother, father, and brother, all recently recovered from COVID-19, sought to donate plasma last week at a mobile site set up by OneBlood at the church where Jones's father is a pastor in the south Florida town of Pembroke Park, according to the Herald. An experimental treatment for COVID-19 takes plasma from survivors and injects it into people with severe cases.
Jones was told he could not donate because he acknowledged that he'd had sex with a man within the past three months (he is in a relationship). That's the current policy recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. Men who have sex with men were barred from ever donating blood or its components under a policy established at the height of the AIDS epidemic; in 2015 that was changed to a requirement that donors had to have abstained from male-male sex for a year, and the abstinence period was dropped to three months this year. Although the policy is focused on preventing HIV transmission, it is in place even for men who test negative for HIV -- for which blood products are carefully screened anyway.
"It's 2020 and this is still the narrative?" Jones told the Herald. "It's unfortunate." He said he thought OneBlood was accepting donors on a case-by-case basis, given the need for plasma from COVID-19 survivors, but OneBlood officials said the service could lose its accreditation if it does not follow the FDA guidelines.
Now someone is using the story of Jones's rejection against him, but it's not clear who. There are several other people running for the Democratic state senator nomination in his district; the primary takes place August 18. Two of them are known for anti-LGBTQ+ comments, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Jones.
One, Miami Gardens Councilmember Erhabor Ighodaro, gave a campaign speech saying, "There is an image that God says a marriage should look like, that families should look like." He is coauthor of a 2019 book, Word Is Enough, that includes this passage: "If you don't have the spiritual fortitude to see the handwriting on the wall, we hope it is not difficult for you to see visual reminders of our disobedience like mass shootings, suicide, depression, pandemic of drug use, malnutrition, genetic decadence, disease, homosexuality, sexual immorality, teenage pregnancy, rape and warmongering (even Stevie Wonder can see that!)."
Another, Daphne Campbell, a former state senator and representative, voted against allowing gay people to adopt children; at the time, she said, "The gay people have their rights. I have my rights." She also cosponsored an anti-transgender "bathroom bill."
There has been at least one homophobic attack on Jones by a radio host, notes Victory Fund, which has called on the media and government officials to investigate the robotexts.
"Shevrin Jones is an out gay man who has been honest with constituents about his personal life and firm in his positions," Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a press release. "These text messages are pathetic appeals to homophobia and they will backfire, but it is vital that the cowards sending this information are identified and exposed. We urge media outlets and Florida officials to investigate who is responsible for what appears to be illegal campaign activity and that the source is known to voters before the primary next week.
"This is not the first homophobic attack Shevrin has faced during his campaign and some of his challengers are actively opposed to equal rights for LGBTQ people. The media should ask each candidate if they are responsible for the text messages and website. We also encourage media to report on each candidate's positions on LGBTQ equality and expose those who align more with Donald Trump than the people of the Senate District 101."
Jones was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012, and he came out publicly in 2018, becoming the body's first Black gay member. If elected to the Florida Senate in November, he would be the first member from the LGBTQ+ community.
There have been several other high-profile cases of men being rejected by blood services since the FDA announced the new policy, even those who have been abstinent. In April, a gay New York City resident and COVID-19 survivor, Lukus Estok, tried to donate plasma and was told he could not, even though he had not had sex in the previous three months. New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who is gay, also was rejected in the spring because the blood center he visited had not updated its abstinence guidelines from the one-year deferral to the three-month one. Many LGBTQ+ and health activists say guidelines should be based on risk behaviors across all sexual identities rather than targeting gay and bisexual men.