Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly gay senator, fights to hold onto his job

(Photo from myfloridahouse.gov)

In 2018, Florida representative Shevrin Jones decided to disclose his homosexuality to the world. He was running for the state senate at the time, so the decision was politically risky, but he was inspired by his brother Kaneil, an understanding soul who had recently died. 

“There was a fear that I had, but there was also a courage I had,” Jones said. 

Now, Jones, who won that race in 2018 and was elected as a Democrat to the state Senate in 2020, is running again to represent an area from Pompano Beach to Hollywood. Having grown up in a conservative household with a well-known pastor father, he lived a closeted life for years before becoming the first openly gay senator in Florida.

This past year, he has battled discrimination while serving as a voice for minorities on all fronts, pushing for more Black and brown voters and speaking out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which limits how teachers can discuss sexual orientation in elementary school classrooms.

The implementation of the law, which takes effect July 1, makes Jones’ race particularly important. One of his competitors, Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, has made homophobic comments about Jones in the past.

In the state house and senate,  there have been only seven openly LGBTQ politicians. The first was Carlos Guillermo Smith, who was elected in 2016.

Jones was born in 1983 in Miami Gardens. His father, Eric Jones, founded the Koinonia Worship Center in Pembroke Park and is currently a senior pastor. He was the mayor of West Park from 2005 to 2020. His mother, Bloneva Jones, was a teacher at Mimi’s Learning Center, a preschool in Pembroke Park. Jones had two brothers, Kaniel and Derrick.

“I was raised in a very conservative household,” Jones said. “All we knew was church.”

While Jones was in middle school, a family friend molested him, which left him traumatized and afraid to tell his parents. He was abused until another victim told the truth, and the man went to jail.

Jones attended American Senior High School and later Florida A & M University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2006.

Jones, along with his college best friends Leo Stoney and Donald Garner, founded LEAD Nation, a non-profit to inspire youth to become community leaders.  

“We wanted to provide young people with not just guidance,” Jones said. “But we want to give people the opportunity to be their own changes within their community.”

After college, he taught Advanced Placement Chemistry and Biology at Everglades Senior High School and Florida Atlantic University High School in Delray Beach.

In 2010, he married Robin Jones, who he had been friends with for over a decade.

The same year, he ran for Broward County Commission’s District 8, where he lost against the current mayor of Broward County, Barbara Sharief.

Then at age 29, he separated from Robin in 2012.

“When I married her I loved her then,” Jones told the Miami Herald. “But I loved her too much to continue to lie to her and lie to my family. I have to be honest.”

He met his current partner, Matthew Beatty, senior director of communications at The Miami Foundation, not long after separating from Robin. They became close friends at a time when Beatty was openly gay and Jones was not.

Soon, Jones opened up to his parents about his trauma from middle school. His family cried together and he sought counseling.

He was also able to build connections and become more involved in his community.

In February of 2012, a 17-year-old boy was murdered in Orlando by George Zimmerman. Nine months later, Jones won the election to the Florida House of Representatives. 

“When I first got elected, that was during the time of Travyon Martin,” Jones said. “The one thing I realized was that we have to put some measures in place to hold not just police officers but citizens accountable.”

Two years later, he co-sponsored the Law Enforcement Officer Body Cameras bill, which was eventually approved by then governor Rick Scott in 2016. He calls this the greatest accomplishment of his career.

“No state had passed the law just yet, so I said Florida should be the first to do it,” Jones said. “So we did it.”

He worked at City Year, a non-profit organization focusing on supporting students and the educational field, and earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Florida Atlantic University.

On September 1, 2017, his older brother, Kaneil Jones, died. This affected Jones profoundly. He had known he was gay since kindergarten and began slowly coming out to close colleagues and friends in 2013. After a lot of soul searching, he came out to his family and introduced Beatty as his partner.

“I don’t think my parents will ever be happy with my decision,” Jones told South Florida Gay News. “But they love their son enough to say, ‘…We will have our views on this, but we are not going to forfeit our relationship with our child.’”

He came out publicly in 2018 when he allowed Equality Florida to include his name in a list of endorsements of openly gay candidates in 2020.

“The announcement didn’t go as planned because my parents weren’t happy,” Jones said. “I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew that could not be the reason why I continue to live this lie, so I had to be honest.”

Though he knew he might lose, he ran for Florida Senate’s district 35 in 2020. At a campaign event, his opponent, Democrat Erhabor Ighodaro, said “There is an image that God says a marriage should look like, that families should look like. And that’s what we’re gonna fight for.”

Jones responded in a Miami New Times interview: “Those types of comments have no place in public service…people are being murdered and killed because of who they are.”

Ighodaro got 9,419 votes while Jones totaled 27,551 votes during the August 2020 elections. He later won the general election.

Erica Friedman, associate director at Florida International University’s Pride Center, is grateful to Jones.

“As a Black gay man in politics, he is bearing the weight of being one of the few modeling a path for other LGBTQ folks of color to run for office in the future,” Friedman said. “Ideally, the weight won’t just fall on Jones’ shoulders and the viewpoints won’t just be his alone, but we will have multiple LGBTQ people and people of color in politics with many different views represented.”

During Jones’ term, one of his focuses was on reducing gun violence.

“If the government saw it as a priority then maybe we could see some change,” said Jones. “I proposed the Urban Violence Task Force to create a task force that was similar to the task force created after Marjory Stoneman Douglas, to study violence in Black communities and then bring those recommendations back to the legislature.”

He also wants to invest more in community programs and improve access to education to get kids out of poverty.

In 2022, he earned a PhD in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

The “Don’t Say Gay” law hit Jones hard. In March 2022, Jones spoke out against the law in a press release and cried during a speech, reminiscing about his father’s disappointment with his sexuality.

“This bill is not only an attack on the LGBTQ community, it’s a continuing attack on a marginalized community we see in the state of Florida,” said Jones. “The judicial system is where we’re going to have this fight.”

Jones has also been focused on helping residents vote. He announced Operation Blackout in February 2022 to encourage minority voters to vote by mail.

“I came up with Operation Blackout to be able to go into more rural communities and bring people in to register to vote by mail because that is the most efficient way that individuals can vote,” Jones said.

Jones is currently running for re-election for District 34 after Gov. DeSantis’ redistricting. As of June 2022, Jones’ campaign had raised $64,298. His donors include AT&T Florida, Disney Destinations, Visa, Publix and Walgreens.

Jones is running against Republican Antonio Byrdsong, Democrat Pitchie Escarment and Democrat Erhabor Ighodaro who long ago was accused of homophobia.

Byrdsong is a 25-year-old NRA member with no political experience. Escarment is a 44-year-old correctional probation senior officer with no political experience. Ighodaro is a 49-year-old councilman for Miami Gardens who has previously run for Florida’s Senate.

At this point, none of them have raised much money, according to state records. Byrdsong has garnered $1,693; Escarment $60 and Ighodaro $4,500.

Jones pledges to protect incarcerated women, help small businesses, increase voter outreach and continue to aid minority communities. 

My agenda should be the people’s agenda,” he said. “And that is what I have been doing over the last 11 years.”

Associate Editor

Sofia Zuñiga is pursuing a bachelor's in Digital Journalism with a master's in Global Strategic Communication. She is also completing a minor in Social Media and E-Marketing Analytics, and a certificate in Queer Studies. Currently, she is an NBCU fellow, where she hopes to promote social awareness and educate the public on community efforts.

Veronica Hernandez is a senior at Florida International University pursuing a bachelor's degree in Digital Journalism. She obtained an associate degree in Mass Communication & Journalism at Miami-Dade College. Veronica would like to be a TV anchor or reporter after she graduates. She is devoted to her community and strives to provide a voice to the voiceless.