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“I take anything personal that affects and comes against marginalised people,” State Senator Shevrin Jones tells GAY TIMES, referencing Florida’s highly controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. “I don’t care what it is. I don’t care if it’s Black people, I don’t care if it’s Indigenous people, I don’t care if it’s the LGBTQ+ community, because we live amongst each other and I feel that when you come for one, you come for all.”

The legislation, which is officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, states that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through [third grade]” or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” in other grades.

It was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on 28 March in a staged ceremony which saw him surrounded by a group of children, some of which held signs saying “protect children, support parents”.

Senator Jones, a Democrat who is the first openly LGBTQ+ Black person elected to the Florida Legislature and represents the state’s 35th district, has been a vocal opponent of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill since it was filed in the state’s House of Representatives.

He says that upon reading it for the first time, he questioned why its introduction is “even important considering the fact that there are so many other topics that we should be dealing with”.

“I get it, the Republicans are in an election year,” says Senator Jones of the bill’s purpose. “They are on this whole tip of parental rights and wanting to ‘give parents their rights back’ because across the country, they feel that this is what’s rallying up their base, this is what their base wants.”

Proponents of the legislation often claim that the bill exists to stop children being exposed to what they deem inappropriate discussions about things like gender identity at an early age.

During a press conference on the day he gave the legislation his signature, Governor DeSantis said it will ensure that “parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”

Senator Jones, however, states that a lot of these issues are not actually being taught in schools – meaning the bill is being introduced to solve a non-existent problem.

“I think we all can agree that no one is teaching children about sexual education,” he continues. “No one is teaching children about sexual orientation or gender identity in those grades. It’s just not happening. You can check any standard within the country, and that is just not a topic that you’re teaching children.”

The “vagueness of the bill” is what Senator Jones finds most concerning, as it “creates not just confusion, but it leaves it up for interpretation” in the legal system.

He adds: “It’s discriminatory on the surface, and I think that’s the dangerous part, because LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide, not because of who they are, because I think we’re walking into a generation of young people who are like, ‘Hey, this is who I am, I’m happy to be who I am’ and they’re confident in that.

“The problem is coming when young people are being treated in a manner that they now have to question who they are, knowing that they already come from households who do not support them, and also households that even if they were to come out, they don’t know what the repercussions of that would look like.”

Senator Jones came out as gay in 2018, something which he feared could bring an end to his career at the time.

“At one point I said that this will probably be the end of my political career, but I was willing to take that risk because I figured that I’m helping nobody by continuously lying to myself or to people, especially being in such a visible position,” he explains.

Since then, he has “come up with this mantra that when you become okay with it, you give everybody else permission to do the same.”

The politician made headlines for his emotional plea for colleagues to stop the bill in its tracks when it was being debated in Florida’s Senate.

“It was the children who were there who motivated me to not just speak out, but to speak up for them because I was able to put myself in their shoes as a teenager,” he states. “And I didn’t have that type of fight in me only because of the household I was raised in, and so I was in my own closet.

“And for these young people to be 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18-year-olds and they are confident in who they are, the expectation I believe that they had on me and a lot of the leaders, was to show up for me because I’m showing up for myself – and I felt obligated to do that.”

After spending eight years working as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, Senator Jones was elected to the Florida Senate in 2020.

He says working as a teacher of Advanced Placement Chemistry inspired him to get into politics, as he was witnessing children “suffering” because of legislation changing rules for educators in the state.

“I will never forget going to a meeting and telling the principal, I’m like, ‘Yo who keeps changing the rules? My kids are the ones who are suffering in this.’ and he says, ‘Talk to the politicians.’ and it was that day I was sitting in our teacher/staff meeting and I said, ‘I’m running for office, I’m running, I’m going to run to change this.’”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are currently being put forward across the United States.

Trans issues in particular are being thrust into the spotlight, especially in relation to their involvement with sporting activities that align with their gender identity.

“They would not be doing this if we weren’t progressing,” adds Senator Jones. “So I think people have to understand that when you’re doing well, that’s when people are like, ‘Wait – you are getting too much power, you’re becoming too visible. You’re trying to indoctrinate our children. That’s how powerful you all are.’

“And so I want the LGBTQ+ community to understand that, don’t allow this moment and don’t think that this moment is what is the permission slip for them saying, ‘Oh we got them.’ No, no, no – they actually don’t. They understand that this is a moving train and want to slow things down, but they can’t.”

Looking to the future, he encourages LGBTQ+ people to get involved in politics in any way possible – be it running for office or volunteering for a candidate they support.

Senator Jones emphasises the importance of being involved in things such as community meetings to help “put up the fight” for equality in all settings.

“There’s an old saying that if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu,” he adds. “It’s important to have a seat at the table and I think that this is the time for the LGBTQ+ community to see we’re under attack, and because we’re under attack? I got you, duly noted. I’m going to run for office, and I think it is really getting past that initial stage of, ‘Will I win?’ – Don’t worry about winning. That’s the victory part of it, right? Because you can lose and still win.”


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