On his campaign to represent a state House district stretching through the heart of Miami’s historically black communities, Cedric McMinn is touting his experience: as a former executive director of the local Democratic Party, as chief of staff to School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, and as an outreach director in Florida for the Barack Obama and Charlie Crist campaigns.
The fact that he is openly gay is incidental, if not irrelevant, to his platform.
But McMinn’s sexual orientation lends a broader significance to his candidacy, even if it may make it more complicated.
If McMinn beats former state Rep. James Bush III next Tuesday and becomes the representative of Florida’s 109th House District, he’ll not only win the right to represent a majority-black district that cuts from Miami Gardens south through Overtown, but he’ll also become the first elected openly gay African-American lawmaker in the state — possibly shattering the perception that homophobia remains an issue in black communities.
“The fact that he’s going out as an openly gay candidate, it’s exciting,” said Tony Lima, executive director of the Miami-based LGBTQ organization SAVE. “It could be risky.”
McMinn doesn’t necessarily agree that his sexual identity is a political risk, or that Miami’s black neighborhoods are particularly harsh on gay men — a concept that received national attention two years ago when “Moonlight,” a drama about a gay man growing up in Liberty City, won the Oscar for best picture. Having himself grown up in Liberty City and Brownsville, the 40-year-old activist thinks that, like any community, homophobia is restricted to a small segment of Miami’s black neighborhoods.
“I think it’s a very small minority that thinks like that,” McMinn told the Miami Herald. “I don’t hear that from my community.”
McMinn is open about his sexual identity, but it isn’t a part of his platform and isn’t mentioned on his campaign website. He says he’s focusing on creating better jobs and economic opportunities for families in the district, and curbing gun violence. He’s running on his long record as a Democratic activist.
“I hate titles. I hate labels,” McMinn said. “People want to put us in labels and boxes, but voters want somebody focusing on the issues in our community that matter.”
Regardless of how McMinn views the relevancy of his sexual identity, his candidacy holds significance for LGBTQ rights organizations and other gay lawmakers in Tallahassee. He has been endorsed as a “spotlight candidate” by the Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based national organization that supports electing openly LGBTQ candidates.
“Cedric will be the first openly LGBTQ African-American elected to the Florida Legislature,” according to Victory Fund’s website.
Paulette Armstead could also break that barrier as she runs against Rep. Patricia Hawkins for a state House seat representing parts of Broward County. On Wednesday, after this article ran online, Rep. Shevrin Jones, who has run unopposed four times for his West Park seat since 2012, never facing an election, spoke to the Miami Herald about coming out publicly as a gay man this summer.
Carlos Guillermo-Smith, who two years ago became the first openly gay Latino lawmaker in the state, said the continued election of LGBTQ candidates bodes well for gay rights in Florida, which remains a relatively conservative state. According to Equality Florida, there are 11 openly LGBT candidates running for state office this year.
David Richardson, who in 2012 was Florida’s first openly gay lawmaker to win election to state office, said nobody cares in Tallahassee if you’re gay or straight, but whether you can pass legislation and get things accomplished. But he said it remains a challenge for gay candidates.
“I remember talking to him early on when he was going to run and I said, ‘You need to get ready for the questions about your sexual orientation because when someone asks you the question, I don’t want you to flinch. I want you to be certain about your answer and whether you decide to run as an openly gay candidate or not,’ ” Richardson said.
McMinn said the question hadn’t come up until a Miami Herald reporter mentioned it. It doesn’t appear to be a campaign issue either, with people familiar with the campaign saying Bush, an ordained minister, hasn’t tried to use McMinn’s sexual identity against him with conservative segments of the district.
“I don’t talk about my opponent,” Bush said, hanging up on a reporter when contacted for this story.
Bush, also a Democrat, has been elected in two different eras to this state House seat, most recently in 2008, although he’s run a series of losing campaigns for other positions, including the president of the United Teachers of Dade. The election is open to voters of all party affiliations, since Bush and McMinn are the only two candidates running for the seat.
Still, McMinn appears to have all the advantages in the race. His $123,000 raised is more than six times what Bush has reaped in campaign donations. And he also has the endorsements of a slew of politicians, including Cynthia Stafford, the incumbent who is leaving her seat because of term limits.
“Cedric is immensely qualified,” said Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, a black Democrat representing Miami Gardens who once employed McMinn on his legislative staff.
McMinn isn’t alone in believing that sexual orientation is irrelevant in Miami’s black politics.
Brandon Alfred, an openly gay, black Jose De Diego Middle School employee running against Bendross-Mindingall for Miami-Dade School Board, said he thinks the black community has been stereotyped and isn’t susceptible to homophobia any more than any other community. He said voters want to know about education policies and his background.
“I’m not sure it’s any more an issue in the black community than any other community,” he said. “It doesn’t come up. It’s not something people speak about. It’s not something folks ask. I think, as a community, we’re moving toward folks simply wanting the best person for our community.”