Michele Rayner is ready to make history again.
Rayner, the first queer Black woman elected to the Florida House of Representatives, is stepping up a level and campaigning for United States Congress. If elected, she would become the first LGBT person ever elected to Congress from Florida.
“For me and my wife we understand representation matters and we understand the assignment that is on our lives,” Rayner told SFGN in a Zoom interview last week. “My opponents are independently wealthy — we’re not — and there are a lot of sacrifices we’re making in order to do this. So, in our community it is incumbent on us to make sure when we have good members of our community who are running that we support them in a real way.”
A civil rights and social justice attorney, Rayner is seeking the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 13. The coastal St. Petersburg-area district is being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist. Born and raised in Pinellas County, Rayner believes she has the energy necessary to defeat Anna Paulina Luna, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump.
“The way that I show up — I’m a Black, gay woman so I think that inspires a lot of folks,” Rayner said. “Our message is one of people's power. Our message is one of solutions. Anna Paulina is still focused on the Big Lie. My other opponents who are Democrats are focused simply on keeping this seat blue. We are offering something for folks to vote for, giving them the vision to believe in and that sets us apart from our other opponents.”
Luna leads all candidates in fundraising with $1.4 million as of March 31. Rayner has received a little more than $516,000, placing her third in the Democratic field behind fellow state representative Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn, an advisor to former President Barack Obama, who have both passed the million-dollar mark.
While in Tallahassee, Rayner spoke out against bills targeting LGBT Floridians. She said it is important to clarify positions on matters of education and parental rights and not let far-right Republicans control the narrative.
“We have to be able to really snatch that message back,” she said. “We have to be able to say we are parents too and we care. If my wife and I have a child I don’t want anyone talking to my child about anything human sexuality wise, however, I don’t want my child not to be able to say that my moms and I went to Disney World or my moms and I went to the beach.”
Currently there are just 11 LGBT members of Congress and some have already endorsed Rayner’s candidacy. New York Congressman Ritchie Torres called Rayner a champion for affordable housing, accessible healthcare and small businesses.
“Michele will add a fresh perspective in Congress and use her experience and advocacy to improve the lives of everyday hard-working people as she has been doing in her community at home,” Torres said.
Rayner said she is motivated in knowing a trail is being blazed.
“I do this work, because I know there is a young woman or young person that’s looking at me and saying, ‘If she can do this, then I can do this as well,’” Rayner said. “My hope and goal is to make the road a little easier for folks who are coming after me.”