Michael and Steven Byrum-Bratsen would be Texas’ first elected same-sex couple.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Out for Change in 2018,” a monthly series on LGBTQ candidates in Texas, who were the subject of our January issue. For more, visit tinyurl.com/outforchange2018.
By Brandon Wolf
If they both win their municipal races in May, Michael and Steven Byrum-Bratsen will become the first married same-sex couple in Texas in which both spouses hold elected office.
But making LGBTQ history is not what motivates the Brazoria County residents. Their main focus is improving the quality of life in the area where they are getting ready to raise a family.
“Municipal elections affect our daily lives,” Michael Byrum-Bratsen says. “Local officials authorize fire and police funding. They decide the inspection levels that must be passed to obtain various permits. They adopt ordinances that control behavior within a community, from public smoking to speed limits.”
Michael Byrum-Bratsen, 31, is already the first openly LGBTQ elected official in the history of Brazoria County. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Iowa Colony City Council in 2015, before being elected to a full two-year term in 2016.
Steven Byrum-Bratsen, 36, is running for a seat on the Brazoria County Drainage District Board. They will both be on the ballot in the nonpartisan May 5 municipal elections. Together, they are among 49 openly LGBTQ candidates in Texas in 2018—a record number by far.
Steven Byrum-Bratsen is a former president of the Houston PFLAG chapter. His parents, Michael and Linda Bratsen, who were “ally” grand marshals of the 2009 Houston Pride parade, have been involved with PFLAG for nearly two decades.
The Byrum-Bratsens were married in March 2013 in Washington DC, just two weeks before the oral arguments for Windsor v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court case that later struck down the antigay Defense of Marriage Act.
In addition to being candidates for public office, the Byrum-Bratsens both serve on the volunteer fire department in Iowa Colony, a fast-growing community southwest of Pearland.
During Tropical Storm Harvey they handled some of the most difficult rescues, including people who were bedridden and relied on electrically powered medical equipment to survive.
In fact, it was the Harvey crisis that inspired Steven Byrum-Bratsen to run for the Drainage Board. He felt the incumbent had done little to prepare for such a storm.
“There are trees growing in the drainage ditches,” he says. “Things loosened by the flood floated down the ditches and snagged in the trees, seriously blocking the flow. [But board members] continue to maintain the status quo.”
If elected, Steven Byrum-Bratsen says he will push to spend $1 million to update drainage plans in the district, which has not been done for 28 years.
Michael Byrum-Bratsen, meanwhile, is working to bring essential retail stores and restaurants to the area. Currently, the nearest grocery store is 13 miles away, which makes Iowa Colony a “food desert.” He is also guiding traffic-management plans in the five local subdivisions to handle an expected population growth from 5,000 to 150,000.
The couple has lived in Iowa Colony since 2011. Steven Byrum-Bratsen grew up in nearby Santa Fe, Texas. Michael Byrum-Bratsen was raised in Atlanta, where the couple met after Steven transferred there for work in 2010.
When Steven Byrum-Bratsen was laid off a year later, the couple headed to Southeast Texas to buy a four-acre plot and build a three-bedroom house. “At first, we wondered about our safety, living in a traditionally conservative area, and thought about buying a gun,” Steven says.
But their neighbors have been friendly, even after it became obvious the two men aren’t brothers.
Before joining the volunteer fire department, it is customary for new recruits to meet with current squad members, who then hold a private meeting. After their applications were approved, the Byrum-Bratsens learned that their sexual orientation had come up during the meeting, with some questioning how two openly gay members would affect the department.
After the fire chief reportedly responded to those concerns by saying that the Byrum-Bratsens just wanted to help protect Iowa Colony, they were welcomed into the department.
Michael Byrum-Bratsen works as the director of purchasing for a local firm, while Steven sells irrigation pumps.
In preparation for adopting two sibling children, they moved to Iowa Colony’s Meridiana subdivision two weeks before Tropical Storm Harvey.
After the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, Michael Byrum-Bratsen introduced a nondiscrimination ordinance for Iowa Colony—before he learned that Texas law prohibits jurisdictions with populations of less than 5,000 from enacting such measures.
As they reflect on the political climate nationally and in Texas, the couple admits that this is a time of major social setbacks. But still, they have hope. “Progress never advances in a straight line,” they say.
This article appears in the March 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine.