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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

Elizabeth Markowitz would be first openly LGBTQ person elected to State Board of Education.

By Marene Gustin

Although she is running in a conservative Texas district, State Board of Education (SBOE) candidate Elizabeth Markowitz says her sexual orientation hasn’t been an issue on the campaign trail.

“I was asked about the bathroom issue once,” Markowitz says, referring to transgender restroom access in schools. “I said I had no problem with unisex bathrooms, and I got yelled at.

“But the real issue in Texas schools is that it is more about teaching to a test, instead of what the students are learning in the classroom,” she says.

Markowitz, a 35-year-old out lesbian and educator, is the Democratic nominee for SBOE in District 7, which covers a huge swath of southeast Texas.

Like many first-time candidates in 2018, Markowitz says her reason for getting in the race was simple.

“I realized no one else was going to step up,” she says.

Markowitz would be the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the 15-member board. Former SBOE member George Clayton was defeated in the 2012 Republican primary after being outed as gay. In 2016, Houston’s Dakota Carter won the Democratic nomination for SBOE in District 6, but lost in the general election.

Except for the occasional controversy, the SBOE often flies under the radar and is considered a down-ballot race that rouses little public interest. But members do the important work of approving textbooks, setting graduation requirements, reviewing new charter-school applications, and overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund, which generates public-school funding from the sale of mineral rights on property it owns.

Markowitz says her number-one priority is curriculum.

“There are 15 board members—some with no education experience—choosing textbooks for 5.25 million Texas students,” she says. “Some of our current textbooks now say the Civil War was about land rights, as opposed to slavery.”

In April, the board finally approved a high-school course in Mexican-American studies, but Republicans on the board insisted on calling it Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent. This in a state where the majority of public school students are Mexican-Americans.

Markowitz believes if Texas can elect eight board members “who believe in science and history,” things may change. That seems optimistic, since conservatives have controlled the board for decades. But she believes she has a real chance at winning.

Beaumont businessman David Bradley has held the District 7 position for 20 years. He’s retiring and has endorsed GOP nominee Matt Robinson, a urologist and Friendswood ISD board member who ran unopposed in the Republican primary. Markowitz, also unopposed in the primary, will face Robinson in November.

She says that Robinson is not actively campaigning. “His website has been down
for three months.” At press time, VoteMattRobinson.com was not active, but he did have a Facebook page for his campaign, although the last post was from a year ago.

In the meantime, Markowitz has been crisscrossing the district trying to reach as many voters as possible.

“If we can get the teachers to the polls, I think we can make a difference,” she says.

Regarding the recent spate of teacher strikes over poor school conditions in other states, she thinks Texas schools are no better off. “If Texas teachers were legally allowed to strike,” she says, “I think they would be doing that, too.”

Markowitz is a native Texan who currently lives in Katy near her father, who she says is her biggest supporter. Her late mother was a teacher, and both parents always stressed the importance of education to her.

Not surprisingly, Markowitz has spent the majority of her life either studying or teaching others. She got her bachelor’s degree in computer science and studio art at Trinity University in San Antonio, where she worked as a teacher at both The Princeton Review and the Southwest School of Art.

She went on to receive an advanced degree in technology management at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She also worked at a lesbian bar to help put herself through graduate school. Next came the UT Health Science Center in  Houston, where she entered a health informatics program and conducted research on electronic medical records usage while working with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. But she wasn’t done yet: she earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 2017.

Today, Markowitz still teaches for The Princeton Review, where she is also a corporate trainer. She has co-authored a book, High School Algebra I Unlocked: Your Key to Mastering Algebra I. Along the way, she has also been heavily involved in LGBTQ and Democratic causes.

For more on Markowitz’s campaign, visit Eliz4tx.com.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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