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COVER STORY: Harris County DA Kim Ogg Is America’s Top Gay Cop

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Nation’s highest-ranking openly LGBTQ law enforcement official reflects on her journey.

By John Wright

As the elected district attorney in the nation’s third-largest county, Kim Ogg represents more constituents than any other openly LGBTQ law-enforcement official in the U.S. More importantly, as Harris County’s first Democratic DA in nearly four decades, Ogg has ushered in a wave of progressive reforms—from marijuana enforcement to victims’ rights, and from the bail system to increasing the transparency and diversity of her office.

In doing so, Ogg has emerged as a leading figure in the national debate over criminal-justice policy, and as a rising star in “the Resistance” to the right-wing agendas of Republican state leaders and president Donald Trump.

Ogg, a 57-year-old Houston native, lives in the Heights with her partner of 32 years, Olivia Jordan, and their teenage son, Jack Jordan. With her tenure as DA approaching its six-month mark, Ogg sat down with OutSmart for an exclusive interview.

John Wright: Your father, Jack Ogg, was a longtime Texas state legislator, and your late mother was well-known for her charity work. What it was like coming out to your parents?
Kim Ogg: It was traumatic. My parents were of the generation—they felt like my being gay was their responsibility, and that they were morally accountable. I had grown up in politics, and I understood that being gay was a political liability to my father and family, and so it was excruciating. Our family broke apart for some time, but we’re so close that what that did was give me time to go grow up, which I did. I had been on my father’s “payroll” from birth to college, but the day I got out of college I was on my own, and I’ve been on my own ever since. My family and I didn’t see each other on anything but holidays after that for some time—almost four years.

Our family broke up, [but then] we came around. I quit being. . . I was a little militant. An example would be that I wore camouflage for almost a whole year. I was at war with the world. And then it turned out that to get and keep a good job, you needed to have a broader wardrobe.

Around the same time, you met Olivia while you were both students at South Texas College of Law. Was it love at first sight?
No, [the young men in] my study group asked me to bring in another girl—the cute girl from the library. They wanted to bring her in, and I said, “But you have a girl.” And they said, “Yeah, but you’re gay.” And I said, “Well, yeah, but I thought we had this good group going.” So I said, “Well, I want to interview her.” So we went to lunch, and I thought she was fabulous and a great recruit, and somebody that we absolutely should have, and then it angered all my study partners who really wanted to go out with her. It was a great story, and it’s all true, and none of it was my idea. It was Olivia’s idea. In fact, I tried to talk her out of the “lifestyle” when she mentioned she was interested. I said, “It’s really difficult, and I don’t think you want to do this, not if you really want to be successful.” Remember, this was 1985. Successful gay people were not out of the closet in Houston, Texas. We were all over, but we were not out of the closet. So I said, “If you want to be successful, don’t do it.” And then she said, “Yeah, but I want to do it with you.” And I said, “Oh, that’s different. That’s completely different.”

Olivia became a criminal defense lawyer, representing indigent individuals who were charged with crimes. So we were like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. We had opposite roles in the courtroom, but we were hyper-conscious of conflicts of interest, so we never handled a case against each other or with each other, until we went into private practice later.

Meanwhile, you went to work for a Republican district attorney in 1987. Were you out when you first joined the DA’s office?
I was not out, but I was also not in the closet. I just didn’t say. I didn’t lie. Everyone here knew those of us who were gay, meaning the other lawyers, and we were accepted, and I would say we were well liked, but we were an anomaly. We were a tiny minority—gay people weren’t even considered a minority at that time.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg (l) met her partner of 32 years, Olivia Jordan, while they were students at South Texas College of Law. Fifteen years later, they added Jack, who’ll be a freshman at the University of Houston this fall. (Max Burkhalter)

And you were still in the DA’s office in 1991, when Paul Broussard was murdered in Montrose in a notorious anti-gay hate crime.   

I was in the special-crimes unit during part of the time when that played out, so I had no direct access or impact on the case, but it made a big impression on me as a young lawyer. It was the first time an antigay motive came out in a big public way, and the way the district attorney’s office handled the case was controversial. There was a lot of discussion in the office about whether the plea offer was too light or too harsh, whether motive was an appropriate thing to use in terms of punishment, whether juries would convict, and whether, if they did convict, they would give people who murdered gay victims less time or equal time. Nobody talked about, “Gee, we’re worried that they’ll give them more time.” People were worried that they might go free. While the stabber, Jon Buice, got prison time, a lot of [Broussard’s] murderers got probation. And then there was Buice’s parole, and that issue has played out over the last two decades in the gay community.

Which side of the parole issue were you on?
I came down on the side of the victims. I saw the knife, I saw parts of the trial. I was a young assistant district attorney here, and I fully support the victim’s family. I believe that the evidence proved it was a hate crime even before such an animal existed in the law, and I felt that Buice should have done his time. I feel that way about almost all cases involving another person’s intentional death.

Equal protection for gay victims, especially those of violent crimes, has been important to me, really, since that case. I wasn’t trying to affect gay rights. I was trying to affect the law, and the high-profile tragic murder of Paul Broussard, simply because he was gay and considered an easy mark by young people, was a life-changing event, professionally. And so from there, over the decades, I’ve just been involved with trying to ensure that the LGBT community got equal protection in criminal law. I promised to our community, when I was running, that when hate crimes occurred, and when the evidence existed, that I would prosecute them every time as hate crimes. We’ve filed three so far—one involving a Muslim victim and two involving African-American victims.

In 1995, you ran for district judge as a Republican, and longtime antigay activist Steve Hotze endorsed your opponent in the primary. Were you gay-baited in that race?
They didn’t gay-bait me; they gay-crucified me. But they didn’t do it in print. They did it through a telephone and whisper campaign, and they injected a third candidate into the race. I did not interview with Hotze, and I never answered any questions for him, so I never lied about my homosexuality. [But] the whole courthouse knew. It was funny, they didn’t do an antigay mailer, but they did a whisper campaign. It was enough to force me into a primary runoff where extremists usually win, and so the more conservative candidate won.

Twenty years later, in 2016, you were gay-baited again by your Republican opponent, former district attorney Devon Anderson, and it became a major news story.
It was my lifelong fear, being called a lesbian in front of my entire hometown—4.5 million people, on television. It’s like showing up with no clothes on or something—that bad dream that you have. When it finally happened, I knew it was exploitable and could benefit me, but I had to magnify that thing that I was so afraid of. And so we just sent it out to everybody—it was so freeing. It was sort of like coming out to my family. At that point, you don’t have anything left to lose. You have everything to gain. I realized at that moment how much that fear—it wasn’t a false fear—but it felt so good to let it go and just send it out to the world: “Devon Anderson called me a lesbian.” Discrimination, no matter how you dress it up, is wrong. For Devon to have regressed to name-calling was indicative of her losing the election.

Ogg, shown being sworn in by her father, longtime former state legislator Jack Ogg, says coming out to her parents was “excruciating,” and it took four years before her family fully reconciled. (Dalton DeHart)

When you ran as a Republican in 1996, Republicans attacked you for having voted in Democratic primaries. When you ran as a Democrat in 2014 and 2016, you were criticized for having voted in Republican primaries. Talk about your partisan evolution.
I think the criticism has been that I have been disloyal to both parties, and what I would tell you is that I grew up in the Democratic Party. I was pretty frustrated with [Democrats] in the mid-’90s, and Republicans were promising this big tent, and I thought it sounded reasonable. It didn’t turn out to be true. In the second presidential campaign under George W. Bush, they really utilized gay marriage—it was used as a wedge issue nationally in 2004, and I would say that radicalized me to the Democratic perspective. I was never going to be for a party that stood for hate and that used discrimination as a platform, as a literal political platform. So, for 13 years, I’ve been a Democrat and stayed a Democrat, and I don’t intend to ever change.

Speaking of Hotze, he’s since moved on to “men in women’s bathrooms.” As a longtime law-enforcement official and advocate for crime victims’ rights, what do you think of the argument that transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination laws lead to sexual assault?
I think it’s a lie. I think it’s a political red herring designed to take our eye off the ball as taxpayers. We should be concerned about property taxes, about funding our educational system, so that we have a state that has a workforce that’s ready for this century. I think these types of hateful, discrimination-based laws are not what governance is about, and I believe that the people are going to have to show, through their vote on a statewide basis, that that’s not the kind of government we want. But right now, that’s the government we’ve elected.

That, to me, is a perfect example of our current State leadership being blind to the needs of average Texans and focusing on an ideological red herring. Because nobody’s complained to the district attorney’s office about crimes against anyone in bathrooms, and if they did, we would prosecute them as ordinary crimes. But this is a manufactured issue that’s intentionally divisive.

You recently said that being elected district attorney is only your second-biggest accomplishment. You said raising your son with Olivia is the biggest. How did that come about?
Olivia and I talked about having a family [for our first 15 years together], and we finally made a decision. I was 39 and she was 41, and time was running out, and even though gay people weren’t really having children on a wholesale basis yet, we decided to do it. The process [back then] was much more stringent. The artificial-insemination doctors had us in and interviewed us. And then Olivia got pregnant on the first try. So we talked about it for 15 years, and she was pregnant in like two weeks. It was zero to 60. It was a shock-introduction to parenthood, and then our son was almost three months premature. So we had this long period of discussion, a very short gestation period, and boom, welcome to parenthood. It was a lot like this job—I really wanted it for a long, long time, and I talked about it and I thought about it, and I had planning committees about it, and then the opportunity arose, and I jumped on the train that I’d been running next to all those years.

Did you do a second-parent adoption?
I wasn’t able to adopt Jack until he was 12. That’s because our judges in the Harris County courts, for the most part, don’t do gay adoptions, even still. They’re almost all Republican. I knew better than to even try. Six years ago, I chose to go to Bexar County because that was the legal advice that I got. I hired lawyers in Houston who went to Bexar County. I’m still not recorded by the Bureau of Vital Statistics as Jack’s other parent. [But] we started being open and out before the birth of our son. We didn’t want him to face a double standard of us not being truthful in the world about us as a family, so we have been open and out since 1999. In the courthouse setting, from 1987 until that time, people knew we were gay—it was more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” atmosphere. It just wasn’t openly discussed, but before we had Jack, we were openly talking about being gay, because Olivia was pregnant and we were all down there at the courthouse.

In February, Ogg introduced her misdemeanor marijuana diversion program, one of several major reforms she’s implemented in her first six months. (Maria J. Avila/Harris County District Attorney’s Office)

Do you think you helped advance LGBTQ equality just by being out?
While we weren’t gay activists, some of us were just credible professionals who people knew were gay, and I think that’s what has helped reduce discrimination, because everybody knew somebody who was gay. We were part of the movement, but we were not Annise Parker [former Houston mayor and longtime LGBTQ activist]. We were not the brave ones, but we were doing our part in the professional sense. Because the only pictures [of gay people] that the rest of the world had in their minds were from the gay-pride parades (which is not daily or normal life for anyone, including gay people), there just wasn’t a good comparative. People had to look to their own circle of friends or professionals to make a decision about whether they were going to accept us or not—openly in society. It’s probably the biggest change in the world that’s happened in my lifetime.

Speaking of big changes, we also have a new president. How do you view your role in “the Resistance” to Trump?
Harris County is a blue island in a red state in a red country right now. If we were in a movie, we would be the humans, and the federal government would be the machines.

I think I can make Houston safer than other cities, and I think that if I do that as a Democratic elected official, that will be a piece of evidence that’s hard to argue with. That’s the evidence we can hold up and say, “See, Democratic governance works. It worked better than the other guys, Brand X, and we were transparent about the whole thing.”

I think this message of division and hate is very destructive in terms of public safety. It’s sending out a message that some people are not worthy of protection, and so don’t bother calling, because we’re just going to arrest you. I think that’s the message [Trump is] sending, especially to [our country’s] international communities. I think those communities are turning to us for answers, and Harris County’s law-enforcement community is saying, “We’ll protect you. We will treat you equally. We will not actively try to participate in trying to arrest and deport you for immigration crimes.” And that stance is pro-American, it is pro-public safety, and it is anti-Trump.

Do you have aspirations of running for higher office, such as for Texas attorney general?
No, I could only imagine myself all my life in this role. So getting used to it—understanding what the DA is, and how 700 people make up the new me—is challenging enough right now. So I would tell you I have no further aspirations for running [for higher office], not at this time and probably ever. But I have learned enough in life not to ever say never.

This article appears in the July 2017 issue of OutSmart Magazine. 

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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