When Fran Watson was a child, she was often chosen to be the judge when she and her friends would play court.
“We would play while riding the METRO bus, and being judge was always my role,” Watson, now 44, recalls. “Later in life, my college professors nicknamed me Judge Watson. I had no idea my life would ever actually be headed in that direction.”
Watson, an attorney and LGBTQ activist, was appointed associate municipal judge for the City of Houston by Mayor Sylvester Turner in July. Her new position, a two-year term with the opportunity to seek reappointment, is her latest act of public service.
“My goal is to do right by the people of Houston,” Watson says. “I want to ensure that everyone who comes through the courtroom is treated with respect and is being heard.”
Watson and her younger brother were born and raised in Houston by her mother and her grandparents. She excelled at school, loved to read, and enjoyed playing the bass clarinet.
Her life took a sudden turn when she was 13 and her mother died of a drug overdose. During Watson’s sophomore year of high school, her grandfather became ill and she frequently had to accompany him to the doctor. The following year, Watson was expelled from school for having too many absences.
After working in fast food for several years, Watson decided to take the GED exam at the University of Houston Downtown (UHD) so she could become a manager at Luther’s BBQ. Instead, a counselor at the school told Watson that her high scores on the GED were enough to win a scholarship. Watson began attending UHD on that scholarship, earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2005.
Following her graduation, Watson applied to Texas Southern University’s law school and was admitted for the 2006 school year. In 2009, she passed the test to be admitted to the Texas State Bar. Eventually, Watson opened up a private practice in her home, doing LGBTQ estate planning.
In 2011, Watson fell two-and-a-half stories while rock climbing in Austin. She broke both of her legs and was housebound for weeks. “I decided that once I could walk again, I would do more for my community,” she recalls.
Watson became heavily involved in LGBTQ organizations such as the Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston, where she became friends with Jerry Simoneaux—her former law partner and now a fellow Houston judge—who encouraged her to join the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. In 2016, Watson made history by becoming the Caucus’ first black female president. She also served in leadership positions for the Democratic National Convention, Creating Change, and Montrose Grace Place (where she is currently a board member).
Watson ran for a Texas Senate seat in 2018, but ultimately lost in the Democratic primary runoff against Rita Lucido, who was later defeated by anti-LGBTQ Republican Senator Joan Huffman. As to whether she will ever run for the Senate again, Watson says, “As long as there are injustices being done against people, I will always consider a run. I want to make sure that Texas has effective leadership.”
Watson is married to Kim Watson, her partner of 15 years, whom she loves to travel with. Watson says her dream trip is to Africa. “That’s my next spot,” Watson says. “It’s a 19-hour flight, so I’m mentally preparing for it.
I’m hoping to make it happen by 2021.”—Lourdes Zavaleta
Best Bank/Credit Union
Finalists: East West Bank, People’s Trust Federal Credit Union, Regions Bank, Wells Fargo
Best Female Accountant/Bookkeeper
Best Male Accountant/Bookkeeper
Best Female Attorney
Finalists: Phyllis Frye, Fran Watson
Best Male Attorney
Raed Gonzalez (tie), Mitchell Katine (tie)
Finalists: John Nechman, Dwane Todd
Best Female Financial Planner/Advisor
Finalists: Felicia Gulihur, Christyna Lewis
Best Male Financial Planner/Advisor
Bryan K. Cotton (tie), Richard Dickson (tie)