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LGBTQ Organizations Call Out Harris County Candidate for ‘Racist’ Photo Edit

Lesley Briones’ campaign altered the facial features of her Asian American opponent.

Candidates Leslie Briones (l) and Ben Chou

Editor’s note: A correction was made on this article on May 23 at 3:30 p.m. OutSmart originally reported that Lesley Briones had not yet apologized to Ben Chou. This article has been updated with Briones’ apology statement.

A candidate for Harris County Commissioner’s Court is being condemned for altering the facial features of her Asian American opponent in a series of ads.

Lesley Briones, who is running for the Commissioners Court Precinct 4 seat, was accused of editing primary challenger Ben Chou’s eyes, nose, lips, and skin color. Chou’s campaign, as well as LGBTQ organizations the Victory Fund and the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, have spoken out against Briones’ ads. 

“I am saddened to see my opponent stoop to leveraging racist stereotypes that have been used to attack Asian Americans for more than 150 years. With anti-Asian hate rising, Briones should know better than to redraw my eyes and face to suit her campaign,” Chou said in a May 19 statement. “During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Houstonians of all backgrounds should be celebrating diversity instead of changing our features to fit someone else’s narrative.”

A side-by-side comparison of Chou’s campaign photo (l) and the image altered by Briones’ campaign (photo via Twitter)

A spokesperson for Briones’ campaign said a graphic designer “used a standard Photoshop filter without our knowledge.” A few minutes after being notified of the mistake, the ads were taken down. 

LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization that works to elect LGBTQ candidates, called Briones’ ad “dangerous.” The Victory Fund has endorsed Chou, an out gay man.

“This racist attack against Ben—who would be the first out LGBTQ Asian American elected to Harris County government—is disgusting and morally reprehensible,” the Victory Fund said. “At a time when the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is the target of an unprecedented surge in attacks, it is not only hateful, but dangerous. Anyone who peddles in racism and bigotry is clearly unfit for office.” 

The Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, a political advocacy organization that supports pro-LGBTQ candidates and had endorsed Briones, encouraged her to apologize to Chou. 

“We implore Lesley to publicly apologize to Ben and his campaign for use of this ad, and encourage all candidates to focus on the issues and demonstrate that they will be the best candidate to work for the common good of all of us and especially with uplifting and addressing the issues of marginalized communities. Racism has no place in our society and therefore should not have a place in politics,” the Caucus said in a May 22 statement.

That evening, Briones posted a statement on her Facebook account.

“Over the past few days, my campaign has endured several political attacks. I am no stranger to the rough and tumble world of Texas politics, and I don’t mind a vigorous discussion of the issues. But I want to address one attack specifically. Our campaign posted an ad using a photo of my opponent. The graphic designer, without any direction from the campaign, used a photoshop filter to remove my opponent’s smile and apply a black-and-white filter. As soon as I was notified, I instructed my team to remove the ad; it was taken down within minutes. Good leaders take responsibility and demand accountability; that graphic designer no longer works for the campaign. I apologize to my opponent that this event occurred and to the Asian-American community for the pain it has caused.”

Briones and Chou face each other in the May 24 runoff election tomorrow after each of them received less than 50 percent of the vote in March. Briones was in the lead with 33.9 percent of the vote, and Chou received 24.6 percent.

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
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