Michele-Rayner Born and raised in Pinellas County, Florida state Rep. Michele Rayner is a civil rights attorney and social justice advocate.
Image via Desirée Tapia

The Democrat, who is running for Congress in 2022, is aware of the issues faced by Floricuas, and says she wants to make sure that “there are opportunities for economic advancement.”

In 2020 Michele Rayner, the state representative for Florida House District 70, made history when she became the first openly gay Black member elected to the Florida legislature. But as the Pinellas County-born-and-raised civil rights attorney and social justice advocate said, she didn’t run for office to make history, but to “make a difference for people.”

Rayner, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with wife Bianca and their dogs, said growing up she was inspired by her father’s simple, yet powerful message: “Help others, do the right thing and, most of all, always keep your head up high.”

However, these were not just beautiful words, but the truth that she lived at home. Her parents integrated the University of South Florida in the early 1960s and later established themselves as community leaders. This set an example that, she said, inspires her to this day, and is the reason that she is running for Congress in 2022. Simply put, Rayner wants to be where she can best protect and demand justice for Floridians, especially those in underserved communities.

“Tallahassee is broken. It is controlled by the Republican party, and we have folks that would put politics and profit over people,” Rayner told Floricua.

RELATED: Florida Still Has a Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in its Statutes. Michele Rayner Wants to Fix That.

Concerned about the rise in COVID cases across the state, the trans youth sports ban, and DeSantis’ voting law, which Black lawmakers say would make it harder for people of color to cast ballots, Rayner said that “right now, as a Democrat it is very hard to make sure that your communities get the resources they need.”

Working With Boricuas

One of the communities Rayner hopes to have a positive impact on, is the Puerto Rican community, which makes up 21% of the Hispanic population of Florida.

“One of the issues that I’ve talked to folks in my community about is statehood. And I think that’s a question that lies with the people of Puerto Rico,” she said. “It’s one thing to say that the United States should go in and [make the island] a state, regardless of what the people want, but I think we have to make sure that everything we need is rooted in what the people want.”

Rayner is also aware of the issues faced by Boricuas living in Florida, and said she wants to make sure that “there are opportunities for economic advancement, and that we are able to incentivize Puerto Rican entrepreneurs to not only start businesses but to be within their community, to make sure that they are able to circulate funds and money and they are able to grow and thrive.”

Rayner also believes that Boricuas across the state are affected by some of the same issues that affect other Floridians and that she is keen to address.

“This is really embarrassing, for lack of a better word, but we have folks still who cannot get their unemployment benefits; we had the opportunity to fix that, and we didn’t take it. We had the opportunity to make sure that people had health care, and we didn’t do that, we had the opportunity to help small businesses, and we didn’t do that,” she said, adding that, instead, the Republicans opted to give benefits to corporations, rather than protect the workers and their families.  

RELATED: These Are the Most Competitive Races in Florida in 2022. This Is Why They Matter.

‘Science Is Real’

Rayner is also concerned about climate change, noting that despite Republicans’ denials, “it is 100% real.” In fact, she sees the issue holistically, affecting all aspects of life.

“We have a clean water crisis here. The clean water issue affects neighborhoods, and you think about a child, and they’re not able to bathe, they’re not able to eat, and then you want them to pay attention in school. All these things are interconnected.”

That interconnectedness, she believes, is what can unite us in a single purpose to, quote her father, “do the right thing” for all Floridians.

“Floridians,” she said, “need a leader who will stand with them until the change we deserve is a reality.”