Lone Star State now one of only 18 that lacks an openly LGBT legislator, which history suggests is needed to pass relationship recognition
DANIEL WILLIAMS | Contributing Writer
Since 2003, when Austin Democrat Glen Maxey left the Texas House, no out LGBT person has served in the Texas Legislature.
The Lone Star State is now one of only 18 states that lacks an openly LGBT state legislator, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC that backs out candidates nationwide.
But at least four LGBT candidates for Texas House will be seeking to change that this year.
Victory Fund spokesman Dennis Dison said the group has not yet endorsed any of the candidates, and the filing period for May 29 primaries just ended last week. But Dison said he believes electing openly LGBT candidates to public office is a crucial part of passing pro-equailty legislation.
“No state legislature has instituted [same-sex] partnership rights without having out LGBT officials in the legislature,” Dison said. “We have seen in cases where there is just a sole legislator, that it can have a huge impact in terms of our community and changing people’s minds about who we are.”
At 71, Ray Hill is the patriarch of Houston LGBT activism. After coming out in high school (while playing quarterback on the football team) Hill went on to be involved in nearly every major event in Houston’s queer history, from serving as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus to organizing the community after the hate-crime murder of Paul Broussard in 1991. Hill boasts that Mayor Annise Parker, then a Rice University student, used to keep his number with her whenever she’d go out to the lesbian bars in Houston, which were periodically raided by police.
“If you got picked up [by the police] in a bar, I was the only one who showed up in courts when people got arrested, and I knew what to do and how to keep you out of trouble,” Hill said.
Hill faces incumbent Rep. Garnet Coleman in the Democratic Primary. Coleman, who’s served as state representative for nearly 20 years, has received the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus every time he’s run.
Last legislative session, he introduced a bill to repeal the Texas constitutional amendment that prohibits the state from recognizing same-sex marriage. Coleman was one of only 25 members who unequivocally opposed the amendment when it passed the House in 2005.
Hill said it was the Broussard case that drew him into the race. Last year one of Broussard’s killers, John Buice, was recommended for parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Hill advocated for parole, while Coleman wrote a letter to the board asking them to overturn their decision and keep Buice behind bars.
After the board rejected parole for Buice, Hill announced his entrance into the race.
“One of the things that Garnet Coleman and I disagree on is the benefits of revenge in criminal justice,” said Hill, who feels Coleman overstepped his role as state representative by interfering in the case. “Revenge doesn’t accomplish anything.”
If Hill represents the grand old tradition of Texas LGBT activists, Mary Gonzalez is the symbol of its newest generation. Born and raised in Clint, outside of El Paso, the graduate student is a veteran of the Capitol, having worked for state Reps. Paul Moreno and Richard Raymond.
Gonzalez is co-chair of the Board of Directors for allgo, a statewide organization for queer people of color. At 28, she is the youngest of the out candidates running for the Texas House, but has quickly established herself as the frontrunner in the Democratic Primary in El Paso’s District 75, a contest to replace Demoratic Rep. Chente Quintillia, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Gonzalez has out fundraised her two primary opponents, Hector Enriquez and Tony Roman, four to one, and has a nearly $20,000 war chest to support her campaign.
“I have strong backing and people who are excited about this race,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said she is proud to be an out queer woman, but that in her race the need for basic necessities takes precedence. “When people don’t have running water, street lights, roads, or basic infrastructure, the last thing that people are going to talk about is domestic partnerships,” said Gonzalez. “In a part of my district, San Elizario, 49 percent of the people are living below the federal poverty level.”
At the same time, she said it’s important that people know she is running as an out candidate.
“I always liked the idea of people knowing there’s someone out here in El Paso who is out and fighting for these issues,” she said.
Johnson, 37, is the only Democratic candidate running in Houston’s House District 134.
She will face Republican incumbent Sarah Davis, who is also running unopposed in her primary, in November. As a freshman in the current Legislature, Davis has a spotty record on LGBT issues. She voted for some anti-bullying legislation but also supported efforts to defund campus LGBT resource centers at Texas universities.
Johnson doesn’t believe that running as an out candidate will influence the voters of District 134 one way or the other.
“That’s who I am,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it will affect the race. This district is a thoughtful district. I know that when they look at the issues and when they look at my history they know that when it comes time to stand up in Austin and fight for issues that are important to them, issues like public education and health, I will stand up for them.”
Johnson is the daughter of former State Rep. Jake Johnson. She is a former prosecutor who, as a lawyer in private practice, specializes in child advocacy cases, including representing victims of bullying and harassment in public schools. Johnson proudly includes her partner, Sonya, in her public bio.
Vasquez, 44, currently serves as a school board member for the Fort Worth ISD. He faces incumbent Lon Burnam in the Democratic Primary in Cowtown’s District 90.
Burnam hasn’t had a primary opponent since he was first elected in 1996. Like Rep. Coleman, Burnam is one of only 25 Texas House members who unequivocally opposed the 2005 Texas constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality. Burnam has also co-authored anti-bullying legislation for the past two legislative sessions.
Vasquez said he feels Burnam has not done enough in Austin, particularly on education.
“My opponent is a good man and means well,” Vasquez said. “However, the record shows that under both a Texas Democratic House of Representatives and now under a Republican-controlled House, he has been equally ineffective. His good intentions are not getting it done in Austin; we need progress, not posturing.”
A fifth openly gay candidate who’d announced plans to run for Texas House, George Clayton of Richardson, instead filed for re-election to his seat on the State Board of Education.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2012.