A transgender state Senate candidate running in Northeast Florida died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, just weeks before the end of her historic run for office.
Melina Rayna Svanhild Farley-Barratt of Trenton was the Democratic nominee in Senate District 5, a largely rural and deep-red sinecure in Northeast Florida.
In a district where 51% of registered voters are Republicans, few Democrats would take on the political machine of Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley and his likely successor and wife, Jennifer Bradley. But Barratt was no ordinary candidate.
Barratt was a familiar presence in the halls of the Florida Capitol during the 2020 Legislative Session, often willing to make arguments that flew in the face of the inevitable Republican consensus positions on one issue or another. She was undaunted by committee chairs struggling to pronounce her name.
She was the Legislative Director with Florida NOW and — as she told Florida Politics last year — she was the first transgender woman to run for the state Senate. She was not intimidated by the Republican composition of the district and the challenge posed by the opposition.
She said she had been thinking about “running for something” for three years. A run for state House was dropped when Dr. Kayser Enneking filed to run in her state House district.
“The Florida Senate [run] is easier to manage,” she said, than a run for Congress would have been.
Ultimately, however, the aspirations of the campaign trail faded to the grim reality of a life coming to its natural end.
Jennifer Bradley, whose name will face Barratt’s on the ballot still, 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,” the Republican said.
Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, lauded Barratt as a “trailblazer and a constant advocate for equality.”
“As the legislative director for the National Organization for Women (NOW) Florida and president of Gainesville Area NOW, she always worked to improve the lives of others and ensure equality for women and transgender people,” Rizzo said.
Barratt’s friends remember her as a powerful force.
“Melina is well known for her feminist work battling for the equity and rights of women and LGBTQIA equity in Florida’s Capitol, throughout the state, and around the nation. She is the first transgender woman candidate to run for election as a legislator in the Florida Senate and, even in ill health, she fought bitterly to stop the bitter discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming people,” asserted Lakey Love and the team at Florida National Organization for Women on a GoFundMe page set up to defray $15,000 of her final expenses.
Barratt’s name will still be on the ballot, but county Democratic leaders will pick a replacement candidate, leading to a “Vote Barratt to pick _____” style marketing approach ahead of Nov. 3. Time would seem to be of the essence for the selection, even though a Democrat is not likely to win the district.
SD 5 covers a broad swath of North Florida, including the whole of Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Union counties as well as a piece of western Marion County.