In November, New York City public school teacher Jabari Brisport, 33, is expected to become the first Black openly gay member of the New York state Legislature.
“I think it's really inspiring,” Brisport told NBC News.
Brisport, the Democratic nominee in Brooklyn's 25th state Senate District, faces no challengers in the November general election. In June, he won the primary election by 10,000 votes.
Brisport is one in a “rainbow” wave of at least 850 LGBTQ candidates who have run for office this election cycle, up from 700 who ran in 2018, according to the Victory Fund, a group that trains, supports and advocates for LGBTQ candidates.
A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Brisport was endorsed by former Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. He supports a number of progressive issues, among them universal health care, tenant protections and criminal justice reform.
“Social justice is in my blood,” Brisbane, who teaches math in middle school, said.
Brisport is also a vocal opponent of charter schools, which now number 267 schools throughout New York City, according to the New York City Charter School Center. He said his gentrified Brooklyn district has a high number of charter schools, which, like public schools, take funding from school districts and the state, but are operated independently by nonprofit or private companies.
As an educator, Brisport said he sees how disinvestment in public education affects students firsthand.
“You can see when there's no soap in the dispensers for students, or they can’t have textbooks, or there’s overcrowding, and none of this is cool,” he said. “I even see it bleeds over into my students’ home life when, you know, my students are shuffling around from place to place because they don't have stable housing of their own.”
Brisport, who grew up in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, is also a proponent of tenant protections and affordable housing policies. He remembered how gentrification transformed his once blue-collar neighborhood into one few people he knew could afford.
“It's like a bomb goes off, and all the sudden the neighborhood is completely different,” he said. “All of a sudden, it's like you just see more white people walking down the street, you see stores that you grew up with going to close down, store owners that you grew up knowing having to go back to their home country or having to move because they can't afford the rent. It’s really scary and really alarming, and it makes you want to fight for a world where that isn't driven exclusively by capital and pursuit of wealth, but one that prioritizes communities and puts people first.”
Brisport’s father, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean, is a sheet metal worker. His mother, a native New Yorker, is an office manager and member of the Communications Workers of America. “It was always important to them that I have a strong moral compass and do the right thing,” he said of his parents.
A long-time activist, Brisport said his upbringing put him on a path to stand up for the working class and for LGBTQ rights, issues he sees as intertwined — especially as the pandemic worsens unemployment and housing insecurity and puts the health of students, their families and public educators at risk. Many LGBTQ people — especially LGBTQ people of color — lack stable housing, good paying jobs and health care, he said, which is one reason why he supports progressive policies like the New York Health Act, which would guarantee health care to all New Yorkers.
“That's extreme help for queer people of color, especially if they have pre-existing conditions, or lack of access to health care, because they might not have a job, or they're in a job without benefits,” he said.
In 2017, Brisport ran his first political campaign — then as a Green Party candidate — for the New York City’s 35th Council District. While he lost, he said he learned a lot about how political campaigns operate. He said he noticed that many candidates hire white men to manage their campaigns, and these campaign managers can in turn use that valuable experience to become candidates themselves.
“It becomes a closed circle,” he said of a political arena that has historically been more difficult for women and people of color to break into. When Brisport began his state Senate campaign, he hired Fainan Lakha, a transgender woman of color, to manage it.
“Maybe she will be the first trans woman of color to run a state senator campaign in New York,” Brisport mused. “And that might be something incredible, too.”
Before Brisport went into education and politics, he was a drama student at Yale, where he used his acting skills to garner support for same-sex marriage in his home state.
“I wrote a spoken word about supporting same-sex marriage and the fact that it's ridiculous that you wouldn't be able to be at the bedside of someone you love in the hospital just because you're both gay,” he said.
Later, in 2009, Brisport helped organized efforts to encourage New York state lawmakers to pass legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. The bill was defeated, though the state would legalize gay marriage two years later. At the time, though, it was a stinging defeat for Brisport.
“On top of that, there was no one there who really represented me,” he said, speaking about the absence of Black LGBTQ state lawmakers at the time.
But, he added, that experience became one of the catalysts that propelled him to where he is today.
“I can fight for LGBTQ rights as a legislator now,” Brisport said.