Florida State Rep. Michele Rayner Could Be the First Black LGBTQ Woman in Congress

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Michele Rayner, a Black woman with long black hair, sits at a table. She is wearing an orange shirt and a pearl necklace.

Photo: Michele Rayner for Congress

Earlier this summer, Florida ​​State Rep. Michele Rayner announced that she is running for Florida’s 13th congressional district, a seat currently held by Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist, who is running for governor. If Rayner wins in 2022, she would be the first out LGBTQ member of Congress from Florida and the first openly queer Black woman to ever serve in Congress.

Last year, Rayner made history as the first openly Black LGBTQ woman elected to the Florida State Legislature. While Rayner admits that some people had questions about whether she could win as a queer woman running in a district that is mostly comprised of people of color, Rayner says: “I was running during a pandemic. People were not caring about who I loved. They were wanting to know how they are going to get their needs met.”

Rayner was elected last August and has already made a huge impact on her constituents. Over the past several months, two of Rayner’s bills were signed into law. One is a workforce apprenticeship bill that allows people to become certified nursing assistants. The other is an urban agriculture bill that addresses food deserts and allows communities to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Aside from passing bills in the Florida State Legislature, Rayner has also been active in speaking out against problematic legislation proposed by her colleagues, including an anti-protest bill and a bill to prevent transgender women and girls from competing in women’s sports. “[With these bills], we were literally fighting culture wars in session,” says Rayner.

Before being elected, Rayner worked as an Assistant Public Defender and acted as local counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she worked on issues like the school to prison pipeline. She also served as an attorney for the family of Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year old Black man whose murder in 2018 reignited debates over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law.”

Rayner decided to run for Congress because she wants to provide tangible resources for her district, where she was born and raised. If elected, her biggest priorities would be passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and addressing environmental and economic justice.

Since announcing her candidacy in June, Rayner has already gained an endorsement from LPAC, the only organization whose mission is to build the political power of LGBTQ women. “As an LGBTQ women’s PAC working towards diverse representation, LPAC exists to support historic candidates like Michele Rayner,” says Lisa Turner, LPAC’s executive director. “When queer women are elected to public office it makes an extraordinary difference in the quality of our democracy.”

As for Rayner’s general approach to policy, she says she looks at policy “from the intersection of being Black, being queer, [and] being a woman.” She also wants to legislate for the most marginalized among us.

“One of the groups that are at the forefront of my mind are Black trans women, who have a life expectancy of [around] 34 years,” says Rayner. “With any legislation, I always ask, ‘How does this bill affect Black trans women?’ Because if I’m legislating for them, the rest of us will be fine.”

Rayner’s primary is set for August 23, 2022.

 

 

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Becca Damante
Becca Damante
Becca is a Smith college graduate with a B.A. in Women and Gender Studies and an Archives concentration. She has worked and written for non-profits organizations such as Media Matters for America, The Century Foundation, and GLAAD, and loves to write about the intersections between pop culture, politics, and social justice. You can find her at @beccadamante on Twitter.