71ºF

1st transgender woman to run for Florida Senate dies of cancer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Democratic candidate for a state Senate seat that stretches from Clay County west across North Florida Central Florida to the Gulf Coast died of thyroid cancer on Tuesday night.

Melina Rayna Svanhild Farley-Barratt was the Florida legislative director of the National Organization for Women and a familiar face at the state Capitol lobbying for women and minority issues. She was also the first transgender woman running for a Florida Senate seat.

Barratt told co-workers that she wanted to take her fight for equity for all women by running for public office and signed up to run in state Senate Dist. 5, which includes Baker, Bradford Clay, Columbia, Union and other counties to the west, including Gilchrist, where Barratt lived.

Marissa McCool, who featured Barratt in her podcast, said remembers her for being willing to represent those who are voiceless.

“Somebody has to be the first one,” McCool said. “Despite having cancer, she was willing to try that and willing to put herself out there at great personal risk.”

She was running for the 5th district State Senate seat as a Democrat against Republican Jennifer Bradley, who is seeking to replace her term-limited husband in this solidly red district.

“Vote for Melina despite the fact that she’s crossed over,” Lakey Love, secretary of Florida National Organization for Women, told WCJB-TV. “She’s the first trans woman to run for the Florida Senate and a vote for Melina still this voting season is a vote for the power of not only women but for transgender people and active feminists who are fighting patriarchy and misogyny here in the state of Florida.”

Bradley offered words of condolence Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Melina Rayna Svanhild Farley-Barrett. While I never had the opportunity to meet Melina, she was a passionate advocate for equality whose work was impactful to many. My prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time,” Bradley told Politico.

Barratt’s name will remain on the ballot, but Democratic leaders will pick a replacement candidate who would receive all votes cast for Barratt, even though a Democrat is highly unlikely to win the district.

We lost a special neighbor. Melina Rayna Farley-Barratt was a fighter, a saint, a mentor, a leader and a friend. May you...

Posted by Mayor Lauren Poe on Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Barratt’s partner, Elliot Farley, told News4Jax that she had battled cancer for eight years.

“I’m still hearing of things that she did for others that I was unaware of -- things she never told anyone," Farley said in a statement.

McCool, who drove from Minnesota to Florida when she heard Barratt was in hospice, called her a role model, saying Barrett taught her to keep fighting despite the dangers her community faced.

“There were, even then ... still just these brief flashes flickers of the person I knew when she was barely conscious,” McCool said. “Those few seconds of lucidity just reminded me how special she was, because even then, she was still trying to plan events and be the hero she is.”

Delia Rawdon said she was inspired by Barratt’s life.

“The day I came out to the world was the day I had to decide is it worth dying for?" Rawdon said. “Florida had a super high count for transgender murders. ... So to be able to stand up and say, ‘I don’t care what’s happening politically, I don’t care what people are doing to other people, I’m standing up and making my stance.’”

The Florida Democratic Party sent a statement sending deepest condolences to her family and friends:

Members of the FL NOW have set up a GoFundMe page for Barratt’s family to help pay for the cost of a memorial service.


About the Authors: