The former president of the GLBT Political Caucus
by Karen Derr
On a cold February Friday, Jenifer Rene Pool greeted friends, media, and supporters who had gathered at the One’s a Meal restaurant near Montrose Boulevard. Everyone attending already knew what she was about to announce: Jenifer had officially filed as a candidate for Houston City Council At-Large Position 2. That seat is currently held by openly gay councilmember Sue Lovell, who is leaving due to term limits.
A blogger covering the event for the Houston Press concentrated more on what Pool was wearing than on what she had to say that day. While commiserating female readers expressed indignation in their online comments, Jenifer Rene Pool said she’s prepared for this and anything else the campaign trail throws her way. She talked matter-of-factly about her status as a transgender candidate. “I’m a Texas gal and I take the armadillo as my mascot—tough-skinned,” said the 62-year-old who was born and raised in Beaumont. Pool realizes she’ll need tough skin in the current political climate. When asked if she’s ready for attacks from Houston’s well-organized and well-funded conservative right, she confirmed that indeed she is.
One gets the feeling her tough skin has served her well in the years since she began her involvement in Houston politics as Ted Pool back in the ’90s. Pool has been involved in Mayor Annise Parker’s campaigns since her early runs for city council, and Mayor Bill White also appointed her to the Police Advisory Committee.
The fact that she is a transgender candidate running for a major office in Houston is one thing that sets Pool apart—but it is not the only thing, or even the biggest thing, that she talked most about. When asked why she decided to run, Pool talked passionately about her desire to serve. “I am the child of a World War II veteran. I was taught to love God, love country, and serve our country and our neighbors.” Believing that Houston has a great quarterback in Mayor Annise Parker, Pool doesn’t want to be on the sidelines any longer. She wants to join the team, serving Houstonians and promoting Houston to the rest of the world as a great place to live and work.
And what if she finds there are issues she and the mayor don’t see eye-to-eye on? Pool’s respect for Parker runs deep, but she said they’ve disagreed in the past. As far as Pool’s record of service, she was not only appointed by two mayors to the Police Advisory Committee, she is also an appointee to the Building Standards Committee.
Pool, who works as a construction consultant, said she will bring to the council chambers an expertise in construction that is currently lacking. Through better public communication and education, she hopes to make citizens more aware of the permitting process and create a City Planning Department that is more user-friendly. She currently consults with clients—both contractors and building owners—on compliance with city building codes. She thinks the process could be improved to make it easier to navigate without the need for professional consultants like herself.
Pool also hopes to bring a long-range vision to council by promoting Houston to industries that she feels would grow the economy with clean, 21st-century jobs. One such target is film and television production. Pool’s other company, Jenifer Rene Productions, scouts and manages locations for film and other media productions, and she feels Houston is missing huge opportunities in this field. She wants to promote Houston for this and other technology industries like video game development.
With redistricting in full swing at City Hall, it has been rumored that a district that could consistently elect an LGBT councilmember is in the works. When asked what she thinks about a “gay district,” Pool explained that data compiled by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus does not support the possibility of such a district. She said that while there is a concentration of LGBT voters around Montrose, LGBT voters are actually quite widely dispersed throughout the city. “We have families all over the city.”
Pool believes the council’s at-large positions are the ones LGBT candidates are most likely to win. Other At-Large Position 2 candidates include HCC School Board Trustee Michael P. Williams, attorney Eric Dick, and Elizabeth Perez, treasurer for the Latino National Republican Coalition-Houston. It’s still too soon to tell if an openly gay opponent will run against Pool, as the filing deadline is not until late summer and some candidates may be waiting to see the outcome of redistricting before they announce. Maverick Welch, who is openly gay and who ran for District H in 2009 is, in Pool’s words, “. . . MIA. I had heard he would be running for Position 2, and then I saw on Facebook that he might run for a district seat.”
It would definitely be to Pool’s advantage to not have a gay opponent to split the LGBT vote, which Pool has been instrumental in organizing in past years as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. That nonpartisan endorsing group publishes its recommendations and distributes them via volunteers at the polls, direct mail, and door-to-door. It is the oldest GLBT political group in the South, and because of its influence with Houston voters, it is an endorsement sought by the majority of both gay and straight candidates. Pool is the longest-sitting president of the Caucus to date, serving from 2006 to 2008. She also sits on the board of the Houston Transgender Unity Council.
When asked about her goals for the city regarding Houston’s transgender community, she said she’d like to see the current executive order against discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression written into law for city employees and companies that do business with the city. The order goes back to Mayor Lee Brown, and Mayor Parker extended it to include city contractors. She emphasized the importance of the inclusion of protection for gender expression as a benefit to all Houstonians, whether they identify themselves with the LGBT community or not.
Pool would also work to see that nonprofits that are supported by city and federal funds could not deny help to LGBT persons. She said that certain faith-based charitable organizations do discriminate against Houston’s transgender community, and she believes they should not be funded with city dollars.
Beyond those discrimination issues, Pool conceded that crime and the city budget will overshadow most other concerns. Although she has met with the mayor and several council members regarding her campaign, she has not yet met with councilmember Sue Lovell. “She has said publicly that she will not endorse in this race. I see that as supportive, in a way,” explained Pool. Sometimes a pledge not to help an opponent is the most a first-time candidate can hope for from elected officials, who often hesitate to get involved before the playing field is set.
With over 2,000 Facebook followers and her co-host position on Queer Voices, the successful KPFT radio program, her campaign appears to have some advantages that even a more seasoned candidate will be hard-pressed to overcome at this point. “I just am not seeing any of my opponents at the events I’ve been attending,” said Pool, who has been actively campaigning since October of 2010. Pool was also named Favorite Female Radio Host in OutSmart Readers’ Choice Awards.
Besides her expertise, commitment to service, and head start on the competition, Pool believes her friendliness and respect for others will keep her ahead of the pack. During her years of involvement with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, she’s made a point to be respectful to all who attend the meetings that attract hundreds of candidates from all walks of life, all seeking the Caucus endorsement. “Unless you give me some reason not to, I’m going to be friendly to you. Respect is the most important thing,” said Pool. She is also a hugger. “I’ll shake your hand when we meet, but I’m going to hug you when you say goodbye.” In a citywide campaign in a city with 2.2 million citizens, that’s a lot of hugs.