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LGBTQ Candidates Make History in Houston, Across Texas

Houston produces state's first out appeals court judge, first openly HIV-positive elected official.

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that five openly LGBTQ candidates were elected or re-elected to the Texas House on Tuesday, including Erin Zwiener, who identifies as bisexual. A previous version indicated otherwise. 

Fourteen of the 35 openly LGBTQ candidates who appeared on Tuesday’s ballot in Texas won their races, including six from Harris County.

Five out Democrats — all women — were elected or re-elected to the Texas House, more than doubling the size of the state’s LGBTQ delegation, which will be the largest in history when the Legislature convenes in January.

Democrat Julie Johnson, an out lesbian, trounced anti-LGBTQ Republican incumbent Matt Rinaldi, 57 percent to 43 percent, in Texas House District 115 in Irving. Democrat Erin Zwiener, who identifies as bisexual, narrowly defeated Republican Ken Strange for an open seat in House District 45 in Dripping Springs. Zwiener will become the first openly bisexual member of the Texas Legislature.

Democrat Jessica Gonzalez of Dallas, along with incumbent Reps. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso and Celia Israel of Austin, were unopposed in their general election races. Jessica Gonzalez defeated the incumbent in the Democratic primary in Texas House District 104 in March. Jessica Gonzalez and Celia Israel identify as lesbian, while Mary Gonzalez identifies as pansexual.

In Houston, five openly LGBTQ judicial candidates won their races as part of a Democratic sweep of the state’s most populous county. After they are sworn in next year, Harris County will have a total of eight openly LGBTQ elected judges. That’s far more than any other county in the state, and perhaps the most in the nation. And it signals a remarkable transformation for a courthouse that has historically been extremely unfriendly to LGBTQ people.

Harris County judges Kelli Johnson, Daryl Moore and Steve Kirkland won their seats in 2016, and were not up for re-election this year. Openly LGBTQ Democrats Beau Miller, Jason Cox, Jim Kovach, Shannon Baldwin, and Jerry Simoneaux — who won races Tuesday — will join them on the bench in January.

Baldwin will become the first openly LGBTQ African-American judge in Harris County, and only the second in the state. Miller will be the first openly HIV-positive elected official in Texas.

Houston’s Charles Spain will become Texas’ first openly LGBTQ appeals court justice.

Meanwhile, in a district that spans 10 counties including Harris, Houston Democrat Charles Spain defeated Republican incumbent Marc Brown for a seat on Texas’ 14th District Court of Appeals. Spain, who currently serves as an appointed municipal judge in Houston, will become the first openly LGBTQ appeals court justice in the state.

Although Kirkland lost his race for Texas Supreme Court, he will retain his Harris County judicial seat.

LGBTQ Democrats in Harris County overcame a hateful ad campaign from longtime activist Steve Hotze, who reportedly spent up to $1 million on mailers and TV commercials attacking the Houston Public Library’s Drag Queen Storytime program, and encouraging people to vote a straight Republican ticket. As it turns out, Democrats won straight-ticket voting by 55 percent to 44 percent in Harris County.

Elsewhere, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the first openly LGBTQ major-party candidate for Texas governor, was defeated by GOP incumbent Greg Abbott. Meanwhile, Air Force vet Gina Ortiz Jones was trailing Republican incumbent Will Hurd by a few hundred votes in District 23 in her bid to become the first LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Texas. On Wednesday morning, the race was still too close to call, and well within the margin to request a recount.

Austin City Council contenders Danielle Skidmore and Jessica Cohen, and Texas House hopeful Finnigan Jones of Fort Worth, also came up short in their bids to make history as the first transgender candidates elected in Texas.

Locally, school board candidate Dakota Carter lost his bid to become the first openly LGBTQ elected official in Friendswood.

Finally, voters in Groves overwhelmingly voted to recall gay Councilman Cross Coburn, who was outed when an anonymous mailer sent his nude photos from the dating app Grindr to City Hall and local media outlets.

Below is an alphabetical list of the fourteen openly LGBTQ Texans who won their races Tuesday.

• Shannon Baldwin, Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 4
• Jason Cox, Harris County Protbate Court-at-Law No. 3
• Rosie Gonzalez, Bexar County Court-at-Law No. 13
• Mary Gonzalez, Texas House District 75
• Jessica Gonzalez, Texas House, District 104
• Celia Israel, Texas House, District 50
• Julie Johnson, Texas House, District 115
• Jim Kovach, Harris County Civil Court-at-Law No. 2
• Sara Martinez, Dallas County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1
• Beau Miller, 190th Judicial District, Harris County
• Tonya Parker, 116th Judicial District, Harris County
• Jerry Simoneaux, Harris County Probate Court-at-Law No. 1
• Charles Spain, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 4
• Erin Zwiener, Texas House, District 45

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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