Women Who Make a Difference: Melina Rayna

Melina Rayna is a changemaker in our community. She describes herself as an “out, loud, trans, atheist, activist and feminist.”

Rayna is making history by being the first ever transgender woman to run for Florida State Senate. In addition to her campaign, Rayna is the President of the Gainesville Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), as well as the Legislative Director for Florida Now.

Rayna also does work for the trans community here, for example, organizing an event called “Transgender Athletes” for NOW and her campaign this Saturday at the Alachua County Library Headquarters.

Rayna has done a tremendous amount of work for her community, which is why I wanted to interview her and ask her questions about herself and the work she has done for “Women Who Make a Difference.”  

What are significant experiences you had growing up that led you to where you are today?

This is actually really hard for me. Politics and activism is always something I gravitated toward.

I’d like to say that it’s in my blood. It’s just something I have to do.

I know that the trans community experiences a lot of discrimination, harassment and all kinds of things.

That’s something in my person I believe I have an easier time dealing with than others do.

I have sort of taken it upon myself to attract such contention in the first place so that hopefully it is wasted and discouraged and that they won’t do that to others who would find it harder to deal with. 

It’s all part of who I am.

I spoke at a Gainesville City Commission to include sexual orientation on the Anti-Discrimination Act back in the 90’s when I was either in high school or just freshly out.

I was even aware of and upset with the destruction of the Everglades back when I was in middle school. It’s just that I care about other people, and I want the world to be better.

What are you most passionate about when it comes to what you do?

Feminism. By far and large that’s what I’m really passionate about. That and of course trans activism.

Pushing the knowledge, acceptance, and in some cases, compliance, which is what I am doing with my event about transgender athletes on Saturday.

Feminism as a whole is something that I am really, really passionate about.

When did you find the need to do something for your communities? 

As soon as there was an opportunity that made it seem apparent that I could.

The first real action thing I did was in Marion County when the school board was considering, and eventually passed, the equivalent of a “bathroom bill” for their school district.

I went with my friends from Gainesville, and I personally spoke and all of us joined the protest.

There were a bunch of people, especially from Equality Florida, also including Carlos Guillermo Smith from Orlando was there, and that was before he was elected.

Can you describe what work you do for your community? 

With my [NOW] chapter, we have hosted candidate forums for various different levels, several of them at this point.

We’ve done a few educational meetings. There was one where we were going over the movie, The Red Pill; if you know the details of it, it’s an upsetting thing to watch and if you’re not familiar with it, you can easily get hoodwinked. Which is why we watched it -- because it’s got a lot of fallacies. 

We do a lot of tabling. We were at Pride recently and do that every year and other similar events.

I’ve done a lot of things at Santa Fe College because I was recently a student over there.

Santa Fe is more welcoming of tabling of radical groups, and it’s easier to get to because there’s more parking.

I’ve done things at UF also. It was at an event at UF that I actually first became reacquainted with NOW back in 2016.

I was familiar with it back in the 90’s when I was fresh out of high school because of what was going on with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I had read about NOW’s position in the paper. 

I’ve also handled legislation delegation meetings.

I have spoken with a whole bunch of different politicians at various levels and various ways.

I’ve interviewed Sadie Darnell when she was out running for reelection back in 2016. I really have gone all over the place. 

What inspired you to run for state senate?

I don’t know if I can say any one thing inspired me to.

It was something I was kind of building toward for a good solid three years now.

My best friend Chloe Goldbach ran for county commissioner in 2016, and right before that was when the idea to run first popped into my head.

From there, it’s just been a progression. Since then, I’ve deliberately done things to increase my experience, my reach and broaden my voice in various ways and in all sorts of things to prepare for the possibility that I would run for Senate.

It’s been getting stronger. It was from leaving the NOW National Conference in Minneapolis back in July that it hit me that “this is the year I run for something.”

I wasn’t sure of what, but at the time I was thinking it would probably be State Senate after looking into it more.

It was when I heard that Kayser Enneking is running for Florida State House that confirmed I wanted to run for Senate because I want her to win.

What is it like to be an openly trans woman in politics? 

I’m still figuring that out to be honest. I’m not sure yet. 

My experiences thus far have been overwhelmingly good.

I haven’t had any problems with anyone, at least none that I am aware of. It’s been very positive for me at this point.

I know that when I get into the nitty gritty of canvassing in more conservative areas, I’m more likely to run into problems, so I do anticipate that but I haven’t run into any yet.

Otherwise, I feel like this has been an extension of all of the things that I have been doing for about three and a half years. I don’t think I am going to encounter anything unfamiliar.

What is your previous work in politics?

My original two-year degree, an Associate’s of Arts, was focused in political science.

Back then, they didn’t have specialized Associate’s degrees, but a general one with a focused area. So mine was focused on political science. But today, it would be considered an Associate’s in Political Science. 

Can you give advice for our readers, especially since we cater towards collegiate women?

I would say you have a right to take up space, and you have a right to talk and be heard. Don’t let the men feel otherwise.