LGBTQ+ lawmaker to GOP: ‘I’m literally trying to exist’

Apr 30, 2023, 9:02 PM

FILE - Florida House Representative Michele Rayner, left, hugs her spouse, Bianca Goolsby, during a...

FILE - Florida House Representative Michele Rayner, left, hugs her spouse, Bianca Goolsby, during a march at city hall in St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 12, 2022, to protest the controversial "Don't Say Gay" bill passed by Florida's Republican-led legislature. While Florida has received national attention for what opponents call the "Don't Say Gay" law, the trend is national, particularly in red states. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking nearly 470 bills it considers to be anti-LGBTQ+, most of which are in states with Republican-controlled the Legislature, such as Texas, Missouri, Florida and Tennessee.(Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)

(Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — State Sen. Shevrin Jones can often be seen at the Florida Capitol greeting staff and colleagues with a smile or laugh, but when he’s alone it’s a different story.

“The outward expression is to show God’s love. That’s what I was taught,” said Jones, a Democrat. But, he said, “I have enough tears in my car to fill a lake.”

For Jones, who is gay, the past two years have been emotionally draining as Florida passed a flurry of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

More than 200 LGBTQ+ lawmakers across the country feel just like Jones, at a time when anti-gay and anti-transgender legislation is flourishing — as if they are under personal attack, and that they need to continually defend their community’s right to exist. The issue exploded into the national spotlight last week when Montana Republicans a standoff over gender-affirming medical care for minors.

The ACLU is tracking nearly 470 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 16 states, most with Republican-controlled Legislatures. Texas, Missouri and Tennessee alone account for more than 125 such bills; Florida has ten.

In the leadup to a possible presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gained national attention for proposing and signing a bill to ban class discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity, which opponents have called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. While DeSantis and other GOP leaders have increasingly waded into the culture wars, as part of their political toolbox, the emotions on both sides are ratcheted up.

“I actually have a policy of no longer crying in Tallahassee,” said Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby. “I will cry when I go home.”

Rayner-Goolsby is a lawyer currently in a Master of Divinity program who was raised with a strong religious background. She’s also the first Black lesbian lawmaker in the statehouse to be out.

“I’m literally trying to exist,” she said. “The harsh things we’re saying are in defense of our life. The harsh things that they’re saying are to prop up a governor’s political ambition, and their desire and quest for power.”

In some cases, LGBTQ+ members who have deep faith are pitted against GOP members saying God doesn’t make mistakes, and that there are only two genders. There are also LGBTQ+ members with children who have faced derision and been told that children at large need to be protected from their community.

In Texas, there are three bills that would classify providing gender-affirming care to minors as a form of child abuse.

Other conservative states have followed Florida’s example with bills that restrict trans people’s access to gender-affirming care, bathrooms that correspond with their gender and LGBTQ+ books, as well as the ability to socially transition at school and to play sports at high school and college.

It’s put pressure on LGBTQ+ lawmakers who are encountering opposition, misunderstanding and even hate among their Republican colleagues.

North Dakota Sen. Ryan Braunberger, a Democrat of Fargo, said it’s “frustrating” and “maddening” to be a gay lawmaker in a Legislature where anti-LGBTQ+ bills are debated and most of his colleagues are voting to pass them.

When he was serving on a committee this session and conversation shifted to a bill prohibiting drag shows in public spaces, Braunberger said that a colleague wanted to make it illegal for people to host drag shows in their own homes.

“They want to eliminate members of the LGBTQ+ community from existing,” he said. “It’s what the extreme right is pushing for … It represents a small but powerful part of the Legislature. And I fear that if we don’t stand up against it, that it will continue to grow.”

While LGBTQ+ lawmakers only compose a small fraction of state Legislatures, their numbers are growing, according to the group Out For America.

Statehouse debate about LGBTQ+ rights has increasingly descended into personal attacks and ran counter to the traditional practices of maintaining decorum and respect for one’s colleagues.

During a recent committee debate in Florida, Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby called trans people “demons,” “mutants” and “imps.” In Kansas last year, Republican Rep. Cheryl Helmer made headlines for saying in an email that she didn’t want to share a bathroom with a transgender colleague.

The targeted colleague, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Byers was the state’s only transgender lawmaker and decided last year to not seek reelection.

After Byers testified against a bill banning transgender athletes from girls and women’s sports, a Republican colleague pulled her aside to say he was sorry that Byers had to listen to bill supporters.

Still, he went on to vote for the bill.

The next day, Byers said the lawmaker told another member of what’s called the Kansas “queer caucus” that he couldn’t look himself in the mirror.

“It’s the same thing I think for every LGBTQ+ legislator, in no matter what state they serve in,” Byers said. “You don’t know what you can trust. When they say, ‘I like you, I love you and I’m glad you’re here,’ is that honest? Or is standing at the well and berating LGBTQ+ people, is that the honest person?”

For Florida Sen. Jones — the first Black gay lawmaker in the state — repeatedly hearing “I love you, but” from people he socializes with and works alongside is depressing, even more so when an anti-LGBTQ+ message carries religious undertones. Despite advice that he wouldn’t win reelection, he came out in 2018 and still won his seat.

While difficult, he said he is determined to fight hate with love.

“I pray more now than ever, and I believe in my heart that God loves me more than ever. I hate how they treat people, “ Jones said of Republican lawmakers crafting these bills. ”I hate what they’re doing to the transgender community, I hate what they’re doing to immigrants. I hate it all. But it is not my job to hate them. It is not my job to do anything but love them.”


AP writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Arleigh Rodgers in Indianapolis and Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

National News

File - Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the Apple Watch at the Apple event at the Bill Graham Civic Aud...

Associated Press

Apple is expected to unveil sleek headset aimed at thrusting the masses into alternate realities

Apple appears poised to unveil a long-rumored headset that will place its users between the virtual and real world, while also testing the technology trendsetter’s ability to popularize new-fangled devices after others failed to capture the public’s imagination. After years of speculation, the stage is set for the widely anticipated announcement to be made Monday […]

4 hours ago

FILE - A person, reflected in glass, walks near the Tropicana Las Vegas on May 16, 2023, in Las Veg...

Associated Press

Las Vegas ballpark pitch revives debate over public funding for sports stadiums

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Joe Lombardo wants to help build Major League Baseball’s smallest ballpark, arguing that the worst team in baseball can boost Las Vegas, a city striving to call itself a sports mecca. Debate about public funding for private sports clubs has been revived with the Oakland Athletics ballpark proposal. The […]

1 day ago

FILE - Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at an ...

Associated Press

Carter and the Kings: A friendship and alliance — but after MLK’s assassination

ATLANTA (AP) — The voice of Martin Luther King Sr., a melodic tenor like his slain son, carried across Madison Square Garden, calming the raucous Democrats who had nominated his friend and fellow Georgian for the presidency. “Surely, the Lord sent Jimmy Carter to come on out and bring America back where she belongs,” the […]

1 day ago

Last seasons plant stalks are seen at Seth Jacobs' marijuana planting field at his Slack Hollow far...

Associated Press

Slow start to New York’s legal pot market leaves farmers holding the bag

ARGYLE, N.Y. (AP) — Seth Jacobs has about 100 bins packed with marijuana flower sitting in storage at his upstate New York farm. And that’s a problem. There aren’t enough places to sell it. The 700 pounds (318 kilograms) of pungent flower was harvested last year as part of New York’s first crop of legally […]

1 day ago

FILE - Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions con...

Associated Press

Wisconsin Republicans look for rebound, Democrats stay on offensive as 2024 fights loom

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin once again be a battleground. Democrats, recognizing that four of the past six presidential elections in the state have been decided by less than a percentage point, are trying not to become overconfident in the face of recent gains. They are gathering for their annual state convention starting June 10 […]

1 day ago

Associated Press

Michigan wildfire prompts evacuations, threatens multiple buildings

GRAYLING TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A wildfire in Michigan burned more than 1,000 acres (1.5 square miles) and prompted emergency evacuations and road closures Saturday, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The wildfire located within Grayling Township, about 4 miles (6.4 km) southeast of Grayling, is moving west and southwest and threatens multiple […]

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Men's Health Month...

Men’s Health Month: Why It’s Important to Speak About Your Health

June is Men’s Health Month, with the goal to raise awareness about men’s health and to encourage men to speak about their health.

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

LGBTQ+ lawmaker to GOP: ‘I’m literally trying to exist’