Gina Ortiz Jones would be first openly LGBTQ Texan elected to Congress.
By Marene Gustin
The contest for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and includes hundreds of miles of the Texas-Mexico border, could be one of the most-watched races in the nation.
The district, which has alternated between Democratic and Republican control five times since the early 1990s, could flip again this November, from red to blue. And if it does, Texas could send its first openly LGBTQ representative to Congress.
Gina Ortiz Jones would also be the third openly LGBTQ woman, and the second openly LGBTQ person of color, elected to Congress.
She does, however, face a Democratic runoff on May 22, although she outpaced her opponent, Rick Trevino, by almost 11,000 votes in the March 6 primary.
“We’re excited about the momentum of the campaign,” Ortiz Jones told OutSmart recently from her home in San Antonio. “We have to start now if we’re going to beat incumbent Will Hurd in November.”
Jones, a first-generation American born to a Filipino mother, knows firsthand the opportunities that help those in need achieve their dreams in this country. She graduated from John Jay High School in San Antonio and attended Boston University on a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship. Having served in the Air Force under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she is an Iraq War veteran with 12 years of service as an intelligence officer. After her active-duty career, she continued her service as an advisor on military operations that supported South Sudan’s independence referendum, and she also served in the Libya Crisis Intelligence Cell. During her last 16 months as a civil servant, Jones worked at the intersection of economic and national-security issues. Detailed from the intelligence community, she served as the senior advisor for trade enforcement, a position that President Obama created by executive order in 2012.
“I always knew I wanted to serve my country,” she says. “My younger sister is in the Navy, and my mom has been a school teacher for 39 years. We were just raised that way.”
Jones also spent almost five months working for the Trump administration, which is what led to her congressional bid.
“The foreign and domestic policies just seemed to be detrimental to the long-term benefit of our country,” she says. So she left and returned home to Texas and began her campaign in the 23rd District.
Ortiz Jones’ sexual orientation has not yet become an issue in the campaign, except for one odd interaction during a candidate forum in February.
One of Ortiz Jones’ primary opponents, Angie Villescaz, attacked her for the support she has received from the LGBTQ community. Villescaz called on Ortiz Jones to divulge her sexual orientation in campaign literature, alleging that she could become vulnerable to GOP attacks in the general election, particularly among Catholic voters.
“Because we should all routinely remind people of our sexuality, right?” Jones laughs. “But I think that was just her personal bias. It really wasn’t an issue on the campaign trail. The voters want to hear about the issues, not who you are in love with.”
And the issues in the 23rd District are fairly basic ones: access to health care, gun control, and protection for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. A majority of voters there are opposed to the border wall.
“I think protecting the Dreamers is very important,” she says. “We made a promise to them, and I personally know what it’s like to work hard for something and then be afraid it could be taken away from you at any time. Every day at school, I was afraid I could lose my Air Force scholarship if my sexual identity came out. And then I was an officer in the U.S. Air Force under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I know how it feels.”
As for Hurd, she finds his voting record astonishing, given the needs and wants of the district. She notes that his silence on Trump “speaks volumes.”
“There are not a lot of consistently competitive races in Texas,” Jones says. “This is one, and it’s going to garner a lot of national attention and money this year.” She estimates she’ll need around $2.5 million for the general election. She already has the support of Emily’s List, Vote Vets, Serve America, ASPIRE, LPAC, the Asian American Action Fund, and the Texas Equity PAC, among others.
“And I would be remiss by not mentioning the wonderful guidance and support I’ve received from Annise Parker and the Victory Fund,” she says. Parker, a former Houston mayor, is now president and CEO of the Victory Fund.
“She’s really been amazing,” Jones adds.
As for what she’s had to give up while campaigning, Jones says she misses reading for pleasure, and her girlfriend reminds her that she doesn’t go running as often.
“I’m doing a lot of running around,” she says. “I just don’t have time to go running.”
This article appears in the May 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.