‘We Have to Stand Up and Fight Back’
Trump, Texas Legislature fuel wave of LGBTQ candidates in Houston, across Texas.
By Brandon Wolf
“Ivanka Trump isn’t going to save us, but LGBT elected officials will,” Victory Fund president and CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills told the crowd at a Houston fundraiser in April. Moodie-Mills was referring to reports that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, had convinced President Trump not to sign an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” executive order.
Since then, the Trump administration’s policies—along with the actions of Republican state leaders—have fueled a wave of potential LGBTQ candidates in the Bayou City and across Texas.
Elliot Imse, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ candidates nationwide, said enrollment has doubled in the organization’s candidate-training institutes in the wake of the November 2016 election.
At least four Houstonians are among the numerous LGBTQ Texans eyeing campaigns in 2018 and 2019. One of the Houston candidates has formally announced, and three others are strongly considering runs.
“People are fed up, and they want a better Texas,” said Fran Watson, who’s considering running as a Democrat in Texas Senate District 17, which covers parts of Harris, Brazoria, and Fort Bend counties. That district is currently represented by Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston).
“Texans deserve leaders who have the everyday issues of Texans in mind, rather than focusing on who uses what bathroom,” said Watson, an attorney who serves as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Huffman voted in favor of Senate Bill 6, the anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”
“There are people in the district who are hurting, and I know how to identify with these people,” Watson said. “I also have the skill set to draft legislation to help them.”
Jerry Simoneaux, who currently serves as an associate municipal judge in Houston, plans to run as a Democrat for the Harris County Probate Court 1 seat held by Republican Loyd Wright. Democrats swept countywide judicial races in 2016, but midterm elections historically have favored Republicans. Simoneaux hopes to see that trend change in 2018.
Simoneaux stressed that he isn’t “the gay candidate,” but rather a candidate who happens to be gay. Still, he believes the presence of a gay probate judge could help raise awareness about LGBT issues at the courthouse.
Other potential LGBTQ candidates are eyeing Houston City Council races in 2019. Ashton Woods, the founder of Black Lives Matter: Houston, said he may run for either the District K or an at-large seat. District K is represented by Council Member Larry Green, who will be term-limited in 2019.
“We have to stand up and fight back,” Woods said. “People are being left behind and treated as nonexistent. People have basic human needs—if they are missing a meal, they can’t think about fighting back. We had Donald Trumps before there was a President Trump. They are in our backyards and in elected offices. We need to fight the Trumps in our backyards.”
Nelvin Adriatico, who owns a Sugar Land real-estate firm, is considering a run for the District J seat held by openly gay Council Member Mike Laster, who is also term-limited.
Adriatico has been involved with the highly successful back-to-school backpack program in District J. He said he wants to focus on education, small business, and combatting domestic violence.
“If you have a voice, it can be magnified by serving in an elected office,” Adriatico said, adding that he watches the news every day and is troubled by what Trump is doing.
“I have friends who are minorities and immigrants,” said Adriatico, who would be among the first openly LGBT Asian-Americans elected to public office in Texas. “We’ve got to raise our voices and make a change.”
Woods’ and Adriatico’s 2019 campaign plans remain fluid because of a case that’s before the Texas Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are challenging the 2015 referendum that increased City Council terms from two years to four years. If the referendum is declared invalid due to “misleading” ballot language, the court could order City Council elections in November of this year, or set a special election.
On the federal level, trans woman Danielle Pellett plans to run as a Democrat in the suburban-Dallas 32nd Congressional District in 2018. The seat is currently held by Republican Representative Pete Sessions. The Texas Democratic Party has identified Sessions’ district—along with Houston’s 7th Congressional District—as a priority in mid-term elections.
Lorie Burch, an LGBT activist from Plano, is running as a Democrat in the suburban-Dallas 3rd Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Sam Johnson is retiring.
Meanwhile, Omar Narvaez was elected to the Dallas City Council in June. Narvaez, a former Houston resident, becomes Dallas’ first openly LGBT City Council member in a decade.
Nationally, there are approximately 55,000 elected and appointed positions at the local, state, and federal levels. About 1 percent of those—550—are currently held by openly LGBT people.
According to the Victory Fund, Texas has 18 openly LGBT elected and appointed officials, nine of whom are in Harris County: Laster, Simoneaux, city council member Robert Gallegos; district judges Steven Kirkland, Daryl Moore, and Kelli Johnson; Associate District Judge Jim Evans; and Associate Municipal Judge Phyllis Frye.
This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.