When Lesley Briones was elected as Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner, it created an opportunity for Democrats to have a super-majority that would dictate how Harris County would be governed. This power shift had been in motion since 2018. Briones is the first mother of young children elected to the court, the first woman to lead Precinct 4, and shares in the first time two women have served on the court (Judge Lina Hidalgo was re-elected in 2022). With her election, the LGBTQ community also gained a tremendous ally and “accomplice” in our fight for equality.
“I say ‘ally and accomplice’ because we need to get into ‘good trouble,’ pushing back against discrimination, taking action. With allyship, the key is listening and learning. There is so much I don’t know and want to learn. But we need to make sure that we are listening to become a partner in the fight and not simply projecting what we think might make us look like a good partner,” says Briones.
So far, the commissioner has delivered for the LGBTQ community. In January she wrote and passed a resolution creating the LGBTQIA+ Commission, the first of its kind in the county. Briones explained that the commission would be an advisory group made up of volunteers, community leaders, and experts from various fields. The group will assist the court in finding ways to improve public health and safety for the LGBTQ community. Many in Harris County’s queer community thought something like this would never happen.
Caucus Vice President Porscha Brown told the Houston Press, “I never thought that we would get the same rights or have a voice in the same rooms in my lifetime. Some things have changed, and while the creation of an LGBTQ commission isn’t going to fight our battles for us, it will help us focus on issues locally.”
Almost all of her fellow commissioners have selected community members from their precincts to serve on the commission that Briones says will meet quarterly, starting in the fall. The only commissioner not to have made any selections is the sole remaining Republican, Tom Ramsey from Precinct 3.
Commissioner Briones currently resides in the Timbergrove neighborhood. “I love it because it is inside the loop and close to everything—like the Heights, the Memorial Park area—and it’s a quick trip to get to Montrose, Upper Kirby, or the Galleria and downtown. It is very central, which I like because we have some traffic congestion problems that we are working on,” she says.
Briones is a native Texan, although not a native Houstonian.
“I am originally from Laredo, Texas, on the US-Mexico border. I moved to Houston after graduating from law school. I love Texas,” she says.
Public service is in her blood. Both of Briones’ parents were teachers. In fact, after graduating with honors from Harvard University, Briones herself taught 8th and 10th grade at two of the lowest income public schools in the country. She then attended Yale Law School where she led the Latino Law Student Association’s public service initiatives and provided pro-bono assistance to juvenile defendants and survivors of domestic abuse.
Briones eventually found herself in Houston as she began her law career, and in 2019 was appointed by the Commissioner’s Court to replace Bill McCleod as Judge of Harris County Civil Court of Law No. 4 after he resigned. After assuming the bench, she was recognized as the highest rated judge in the 2019 Houston Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Poll and won the HBA Judicial Preference Poll.
“I love representing Precinct 4. It is the most diverse and international precinct in the county. The Gulfton area itself is considered the ‘Ellis Island’ of Harris County with over 60 percent of the community members having been born in a different country. The precinct includes rural areas, as well as dense urban and suburban areas like River Oaks, Timbergrove, and Rice Military,” she says.
Commissioners, as Briones describes them, serve a dual purpose. On one hand, they are somewhat like the governor of a small state. In fact, Precinct 4 with its 1.2 million residents is larger than nine states. Landwise, it is about the size of Rhode Island. As commissioner, she oversees county services for 5 cities, 54 parks and 8 community centers. This can range from managing youth and senior programs to ensuring that dead animals are cleared from ditches and roads.
On the other hand, she plays a significant role in planning for Precinct 4 as part of the Commissioners Court, where they make decisions that will impact the entire county, like how some government funding is spent. But one of the few perks of such a big job, in a diverse area like Precinct 4 is the diversity of food.
“I love eating. I am a big eater. My team teases me that I am eating my way through the precinct. I am a fan of the Ghandi District, and of course Chinatown, which is in Precinct 4. There is also a variety of Latin American countries represented in the Gulfton area, all with great food. I am MexicanAmerican so I love hole-in-the-wall restaurants and taco trucks. You can stay endlessly entertained with the cuisine in Precinct 4.
With all of her responsibilities, Briones manages to still find time for allyship and activism with the communities that she feels compelled to stand in solidarity with, like the LGBTQ community.
“An attack on the LGBTQ+ community is an attack on all,” says Briones. “The same day they passed the horrific bills disallowing gender-affirming care and targeting the trans Community, my team presented the LGBTQIA+ Commission to the court. On the same day Texas was passing hateful legislation, we were championing the rights of our LGBTQ+ community,” she says.
Despite what feels like an uphill battle for equality in the state, Briones has faith in a better Texas.
“I’m a natural optimist,” she says. “Sometimes it is hard, but I believe when you look at the demographics of the state of Texas, it will eventually change in the next decade. Then, hopefully there will be an opportunity to rectify these wrongs and celebrate each other and ensure that rights are not being curtailed, but augmented. I will always be here to fight for Texas to become the state that reflects that.”
Until then, Briones assures that the LGBTQ community has an ally and an accomplice with her and her team.
“We stand in solidarity to learn, listen, and serve, and make Harris County a place of progress and resistance,” she says. “I look forward to many years of service together.”
For more info, visit cp4.harriscountytx.gov/Briones.