It was a Sunday morning last year in late August, and Shevrin Jones was in church feeling just a little hungover.
He’d been out drinking the previous night with his brother, Kaneil, and now they were sitting next to each other at a pew in Koinonia Worship Center in Hollywood. As their father gave the sermon, Shevrin Jones leaned on his older sibling and whispered, “Thank you.”
For accepting him.
Jones — a three-term state representative and preacher’s kid who got married at 26 and divorced at 31 — is gay. He’s known it since he was in kindergarten. But he only told his family about five years ago, around the time he first got elected.
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“He was like, ‘Man, please.’ So I leaned on him a little more,” Jones remembered, tearing up a little at the memory of his older brother, who died in September. “And that was my last moment with him. He never judged me.”
Jones, a private man living a very public life, has never quite told the world about his sexuality. He was still married to a woman when he was first sworn into office in 2013. But his brother’s death left him shaken and introspective.
He wondered if it was time to live his life more openly, to become more of a public figure in the LGBTQ community.
“My brother died at the age of 34. I was like, that could have been me. I could drop dead living behind the scenes of something that could have helped someone else,” he told the Miami Herald. “I started living my truth just a little bit more.”
After winning three previous elections to the Florida House — each a waltz into office without opposition — Jones is ready to come out publicly as a gay man. He chose a subtle method: allowing Equality Florida’s political director to include him in its list of endorsements of openly gay candidates.
“I said I don’t know if that’s the way I want to have a coming-out party,” Jones said, laughing, when remembering the call he got from former state Rep. Joe Saunders about three weeks ago. “Then I was like, ‘You know what, go ahead. It’s fine.’”
Jones’ decision to go public with his sexual orientation comes as openly LGBTQ candidates continue to break through into Florida’s conservative state Legislature. David Richardson and Saunders were the first to be sworn in after the 2012 elections, followed by Carlos Guillermo-Smith in 2016. Cedric McMinn and Paulette Armstead could be the first openly gay black candidates elected to the state House this year.
Jones took a different track, quietly confiding in colleagues in the Legislature that he was gay as he went through his divorce. Since then, friends and colleagues have gotten to know his partner, with whom he lives in Hollywood.
“It’s really powerful and important that Shevrin has decided to step into the sun in the way that he has this year,” said Saunders. “It’s been a mission of Equality Florida since its founding to increase LGBTQ representation in every level of government. To know that Rep. Shevrin Jones will be in Tallahassee as an out and proud gay man standing next to his LGBTQ colleagues is an exciting thing and it’s going to make the state a better place.”
While it would be incorrect to say that Jones hid his sexuality during his time in the Legislature, he certainly struggled with it into adulthood. Growing up in a conservative black community, he kept it to himself. People at his father’s church assumed, but never asked. He worried about being a distraction to his father — a pastor of a 10,000-person congregation — and was confused by a traumatic event from his childhood.
“I was a married man. My parents were conservative. My parents raised my brothers and me to be truthful and be honest. I knew I was gay back in kindergarten. I knew it,” Jones said. “I got married and my ex-wife — I love her. She’s amazing. She even lives in my district — she and I were friends for 10 years at school. When I married her I loved her then. But I loved her too much to continue to lie to her and lie to my family. I have to be honest.”
Jones and his wife separated in 2012 and finalized their divorced in 2015. Around the same time, Jones also told his parents a secret: A family friend had molested him when he was in middle school. It had traumatized and confused him.
Jones told his parents about what happened. They cried. He sought counseling. And he decided to live his life more openly.
Jared Moskowitz, a Parkland Democrat who sits next to “Shev” Jones in the House chambers and became a close friend, said Jones confided in him as he went through his divorce.
“This is a struggle for him. This has been part of his process. And I’ve seen it and it’s weighed on him,” Moskowitz said. “Nothing is more important to him than his family and God. But this is who Shev is. And as far as I’m concerned, as his friend, if Shevrin Jones is happy I’m happy. And that’s all that matters for me.”
Jones, 34, has lived something of a charmed political life. In June, for the fourth consecutive election, he won a seat in the state House without opposition. But he’s planning to run for Sen. Oscar Braynon’s state Senate seat when Braynon leaves office due to term limits.
Jones has also been floated as a possible lieutenant governor pick if Gwen Graham wins the Democratic nomination for governor next week.
He’s not sure how voters will embrace an openly gay candidate. But, he says, win or lose, he’s at peace.
“Mark my words: Now that I’m living my truth, if I am never elected again, I’m OK with that. Because there are so many people right now who are in office, in places of high stature, who are not living truthful lives and they sleep with that lie on a daily basis,” he said. “If me living my truth is a reason to vote against me or vote me out, then I’m OK with that.”