Less than an hour after the polls closed Tuesday, equality voters in South Florida received an early bit of good news that would be needed to last the rest of the night: State Rep. Shevrin Jones would become the first openly LGBT member of Florida’s senate.
“I’m humbled to have earned the trust of the people of SD 35. I am looking forward to serving you in the Florida Senate. Thank YOU!” Jones posted Tuesday on Facebook only 43 minutes after voting ended at 7 p.m.
Jones, a Broward politician who in August defeated five Democratic primary opponents with more than 43% of the vote, had only write-in opposition on Tuesday. He won his general election with 97.28%.
“Shevrin shattered a long-standing political barrier for LGBTQ candidates in Florida and his victory will resonate far beyond the boundaries of his state,” Annise Parker, president & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement Tuesday night.
Jones, along with Jabari Brisport, who on Tuesday won his race for New York state senate, will become “the only out LGBTQ Black men serving in state senates in the U.S.,” according to Victory Fund.
“Shevrin will be one of just two Black gay men serving in state senates and his victory is certain to inspire more Black LGBTQ leaders to step up and run themselves,” said Parker, the former out mayor of Houston. “The politics of division and hatred failed in this race and gave way to a government that is more representative of the people it serves.”
Jones, who has served since 2012 in the Florida House, is one of 42 LGBT state legislators of color nationwide, according to Victory Fund. He’ll be joined next legislative session in Tallahassee by Michele Rayner, a Black queer woman from Pinellas County who won her Democratic House primary in August and had no Republican opposition.
Another gay man, Cuban-American Democratic Party activist Ricky Junquera of Miami, lost his House race Tuesday with just under 40% of the vote.
Elsewhere in South Florida, several LGBT candidates ran for municipal office, with mixed results:
- In Fort Lauderdale, two gay men easily won their races. Dean Trantalis will serve another four-year term as mayor and Steve Glassman was reelected to the city commission.
- Bill Harris, a gay man in Dania Beach, did not win a seat on his city commission. Former Margate Mayor Lesa “Le” Peerman, a lesbian, was unsuccessful in her bid to return to public office.
- In Monroe County, gay Mayor Heather Carruthers, a Democrat, ran for reelection and appears to have lost to her Republican opponent by fewer than 150 votes. And in August, Key West’s gay Mayor Teri Johnston defeated two challengers and won a second term in office.
But because of Donald Trump’s 51.2% victory statewide — along with the election losses of reliable ally politicians including Democrats U.S. Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, many LGBT activists awakened Wednesday to a rude morning after.
"Florida is heartbreaking. As the sun rises on the day after the election, a tough reality is that the time, effort, and money Democrats put into this election was a mammoth achievement, but not enough to overcome a similar effort on the other side,” wrote Stephen Gaskill, president of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, in an email statement.
In South Florida, queer activists spent much time and money in the final days of the campaign working to get out the equality vote.
“We broke $1.5 million raised to support our pro-equality voter mobilization program,” said Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director, on Tuesday afternoon.
By that time, he said, Florida’s leading LGBT-rights group had since June “deployed 1,375,000 text messages encouraging people to vote.”
Saunders, who in 2012 with David Richardson of Miami Beach became the first out elected members of Florida’s Legislature, said Equality Florida reached an estimated 1.4 million voters in the group’s database through “the most aggressive mobilization program in our history,” including direct mail, digital ads on Facebook and Instagram, text messages and live phone calls.
“We began the cycle anxious about how the pandemic and social distancing, and the requirement to organize virtually would affect our programs. But what we found is that in many ways, it made our programs more accessible,” Saunders said hours before the Election Day polls closed. “Right now, as I’m talking to you, I’m on a Zoom line with 60 people sitting at home in their own apartments, but they are actively part of a text bank targeting 200,000 voters who haven’t voted yet.”
Orlando Gonzales, executive director of SAVE, said Monday that his group spent much time during the campaign trying to clear up voter misinformation.
“We had to talk to voters who were victims of disinformation campaigns — being told they couldn’t vote by mail because it was illegal or dangerous. People being told that early voting wasn’t going to count,” he said. “We would hear it and engage with people. We had to hear and then course-correct to clear up this misinformation.
“We were having conversations that went from three minutes to 10 minutes. We were wearing masks and we were socially distanced. When people told us something, it was on us to be able to convey trust and knowledge and build up the confidence with the voter, to say that information was not true and build up the trust with conviction.”
Nik Harris, vice president of the Dolphin Democrats political club in Broward, suspected before Election Day that Joe Biden would have a hard time winning Florida. She described it on Monday as “the Trump effect.”
“I have never seen so many Trumpers at the polls,” she said of her experiences during early voting. “One guy tried to intimidate us with his car. If you’re sitting on the aisle, they come really close to you. We were in a mall parking lot. After it rained, people would drive through puddles and try to wet us. We saw a lot of nastiness, as well. I’ve never felt like that working a poll in any election. Never. I’ve never had people call me and say, ‘Nik, be careful.’ Family who would call me and say be careful. That’s where we are now.”
Journalist Steve Rothaus covered LGBT issues for 22 years at the Miami Herald.