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Run, Trans Texans, Run!

With three candidates on the ballot in November, this is only the beginning.

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As an advocate for 20 years, I have long recognized the need for transgender people to run for office—including well before the infamous 2017 Texas legislative session. Painful experiences as a trans person, along with watching as we have been repeatedly cut out of legislation despite our best lobbying efforts, have shaped this viewpoint.

The historic wins of state delegate Danica Roem in Virginia, and Minneapolis city council members Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham, have been a catalyst for other trans people to get off the sidelines and toss their hats in the political ring—with mixed success.   

Texas GOP lawmakers’ failed attempts to pass the unjust, anti-trans Senate Bill 6 bill only added a sense of urgency to the need for trans Texans to have a direct say in how we are governed.

Even though Phyllis Frye is a municipal judge in Houston and Jess Herbst served as mayor of New Hope, Texas, we have never had an out trans person elected to public office in the Lone Star State. Frye was appointed by former mayor Annise Parker in 2010. Herbst didn’t come out until she transitioned shortly after she became mayor, making her the first trans elected official in Texas. She lost her bid to be re-elected as mayor of New Hope in May. 

Sooner or later, we’ll start winning more of these races than we lose. When we trans folks start serving as elected officials, it will benefit not only our community, but society as a whole.

When the 2018 political cycle began, more than 50 TBLGQ people were running for public office in the Lone Star State. Eight trans candidates were part of this historic surge in Texas, running for everything from city councils to the U.S. Congress.    

The March primaries thinned them out a bit. Dylan Forbis lost his bid to capture the Democratic nomination for the Texas House District 29 seat in Pearland. This loss was made even more painful by the fact that James Pressly, who defeated Forbis, ended his campaign against incumbent Republican Ed Thompson in August, leaving no Democrat on the November ballot.  

While Jenifer Rene Pool made history in 2016 by becoming the first trans Texan to win a Democratic primary, it was not to be in 2018. Pool lost her bid for the Democratic nomination in the Texas House District 138 race won by Adam Milasincic, who will challenge GOP incumbent Dwayne Bohac in that west-side Houston district. 

Vanessa Edwards Foster captured an impressive 17 percent of the vote in a four-candidate race for the Democratic nomination in the 27th Congressional District race, but fell 898 votes shy of making the May runoff, which was was eventually won by Eric Holguin.   

But we trans Texans have still made some history this year. Finnigan Jones, who is running for the Texas House District 94 seat in Arlington, became the first trans-masculine Texan to win a Democratic primary, and the first trans Texan to win a legislative one.     

Jones cleared the first hurdle toward becoming the first trans person elected to the Texas Legislature, but he faces an uphill climb against incumbent Rep. Tony Tinderholt, who is a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus.

Meanwhile in our state capital, we have two trans candidates running for Austin City Council in November: Jessica Cohen in District 3 and Danielle Skidmore in District 9. Austin has an interesting dynamic in that the majority of sitting City Council members are women.

Both Cohen and Skidmore are challenging incumbent council members—Sabino “Pio” Renteria in District 3 and Kathie Tovo in District 9. Cohen is one of five candidates vying to unseat Renteria, while Skidmore is one of three challenging Tovo, who also serves as Austin’s mayor pro tem.  

While Cohen is considered a longshot to make history, Skidmore recently picked up a major endorsement from Equality Texas’ Texas Equity PAC. It also didn’t hurt Skidmore that in the lottery to determine ballot position, she drew the number-two spot right under Tovo. Cohen, on the other hand, is in the fifth ballot position in the District 3 race.

In any case, I’m rooting for both Cohen and Skidmore to make Texas electoral history with wins in November. I also want that to happen for Jones. It would be deliciously nice for him to defeat an enemy of the Texas trans community.  

The deadline to register to vote is October 9, with early voting starting on October 22 and running through November 3. If you aren’t registered, you need to bust a move and make it happen.      

Then you need to vote as if your humanity and human rights are on the ballot—because, frankly, if you’re a trans Texan, they are. GOP state lawmakers have already signaled their intent to pass an anti-trans bill similar to SB 6 in the 2019 session. 

No matter what happens November 6, Texas trans folks need to continue to run for office at all levels of government, because we need to be the legislative chefs creating laws instead of always being on the menu.     

Sooner or later, we’ll start winning more of these races than we lose. When we trans folks start serving as elected officials, it will benefit not only our community, but society as a whole. 

So run, Texas trans people, run!    

This article appears in the October 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts, a native Houstonian, is the founding editor of the GLAAD award-winning blog TransGriot. Her ongoing mission is to educate people on the lives of transgender people and fight for everyone’s human rights.
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