A gay Florida Senate candidate has become the target of robotexts highlighting his sexual orientation and a recent incident in which he was turned away from donating his plasma due to the Food & Drug Administration’s current restrictions on gay male donors.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park), who is seeking an open seat in South Florida’s District 35, made headlines after he attempted to donate plasma to assist in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Jones recently tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies after an illness, and knew that antibody-rich plasma donations from COVID-19 survivors are in high demand right now.
But when Jones went to OneBlood to donate, he was turned away after responding to a questionnaire in which he identified himself as a gay man who has had sexual contact with another man in the last three months. Jones said he believed the “deferral period” for gay and bisexual men wishing to donate blood and plasma had been relaxed — and it has, but only from a year-long deferral period to a three-month deferral period.
Jones expressed his disappointment with the FDA policy, noting that heterosexual individuals — regardless of their sexual behavior — are not deferred or asked to abstain from sex in order to donate. He added that the screening process made him feel like he was being “scolded” because of his sexual orientation, according to West Palm Beach’s CBS12 News.
Jones’s story was later shared on Twitter and on several local South Florida news outlets, including the Miami Herald. But now someone appears to have taken the Herald story and turned it into a robotext that’s being sent around to voters ahead of the Aug. 18 primary, which effectively determines the winner of the seat in the heavily Democratic district.
That text message read: “The Miami Herald reported that Shevrin Jones was discriminated against for recent homosexual contact,” and directed voters to a now-disabled website called ShevJones.com, where the Herald article was copied verbatim.
Jones’s actual campaign website is www.ShevrinJones.com. He later sent a rebuttal text to voters condemning the robotexts as discriminatory, adding: “Regardless of these nasty attacks, I plan on fighting for you in the Florida Senate. I ask that you ignore this kind of trash.’
He later told the Herald in a follow up interview that it’s “a shame” that one of his five primary opponents has “stooped to this new low to try and win.”
“Rather than running off the issues that matter to the voters of our community, they have chosen to lob desperate attacks based on an antiquated, discriminatory FDA policy … Hate never wins.”
Some of those opponents have trafficked in anti-LGBTQ politics before. Miami Gardens City Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, for example, has cast himself as a “pro-family” candidate who has said he’s going to fight for “an image that God says a marriage should look like, that families should look like.”
In a 2019 book he co-authored called Word is Enough, Ighodaro opined on the consequences of disobeying God’s word, writing: “If you don’t have the spiritual fortitude to see the handwriting on the wall, we hope it is not difficult for you to see visual reminders of our disobedience like mass shootings, suicide, depression, pandemic of drug use, malnutrition, genetic decadence, disease, homosexuality, sexual immorality, teenage pregnancy, rape and warmongering (even Stevie Wonder can see that!).”
When contacted by the Herald, Ighodaro declined to comment on the text or the suspicious website, saying only that “a policy is a policy” when asked about the FDA’s current restrictions on gay and bisexual male donors.
Another opponent, former Sen. Daphne Campbell — then representing Senate District 38 — previously voted against lifting Florida’s ban on gay adoption in 2015 and co-sponsored a “bathroom bill” that would have restricted the types of facilities that transgender individuals are able to access. She declined comment on the controversy.
A third opponent, current State Rep. Barbara Watson said she does not agree with the “smear” on other candidates, saying: “We are all God’s children. Who am I to judge?”
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Jones’s candidacy, has since called on authorities to investigate the source of the homophobic robotexts, which may also have violated laws governing campaigns, because the texts did not provide a disclaimer as to their source, and are a form of political speech seeking to influence an ongoing election.
“Shevrin Jones is an out gay man who has been honest with constituents about his personal life and firm in his positions,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “These text messages are pathetic appeals to homophobia and they will backfire, but it is vital that the cowards sending this information are identified and exposed. We urge media outlets and Florida officials to investigate who is responsible for what appears to be illegal campaign activity and that the source is known to voters before the primary next week.
“This is not the first homophobic attack Shevrin has faced during his campaign and some of his challengers are actively opposed to equal rights for LGBTQ people,” Parker added, referring to an attack lodged against Jones by a local radio host. “The media should ask each candidate if they are responsible for the text messages and website. We also encourage media to report on each candidates’ positions on LGBTQ equality and expose those who align more with Donald Trump than the people of the Senate District 101.”
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