AUSTIN — Of the 150 voices swearing to do their democratic best in the Texas House at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 8, only one belonged to an out pansexual: El Paso’s history-making 29-year-old educator Mary Gonzalez.
Gonzalez became the first openly LGBT female to serve in the Texas Legislature, the first known pansexual elected official in the nation and the first woman to serve District 75. Oh, and she’s also the youngest member of the 83rd Legislature.
Safe to say, there are some eyes on Gonzalez.
“Today was a really wonderful experience,” Gonzalez told Dallas Voice on Tuesday afternoon after the House’s first session of the year. She brought a number of friends and family members to her first day of work, including her father — “my Republican father!” noted Gonzalez, laughing — and her girlfriend.
Gonzalez effectively won her seat in May 2012 when she won the Democratic Primary in El Paso’s District 75, where there was no Republican challenger. Gonzalez was the first LGBT candidate elected to the Legislature since Glen Maxey, D-Austin, left office in 2002. During her campaign for the seat, Gonzalez’s challengers kept bringing the conversation back to her sexuality. It’s a topic she doesn’t shy away from, but she also tells the Dallas Voice that it is not, and shouldn’t be, the sole definer of her political career.
Now that Gonzalez and her staff are busy moving into her sparsely decorated office in the Capitol, she’s ready to get to work — especially since it’ll give folks something to talk to her about besides her sexual orientation.
“One of the reasons identity has been so central to my public persona is because there’s nothing else,” said Gonzalez. “I haven’t been able to take votes yet, I haven’t been able to give, hopefully, amazing speeches yet. So I hope to fill the void of information out there.”
As the youngest member of the House, she’s also part of a new generation of politicians who focus on intersectionality, recognizing that race, gender, class and other identifiers can’t necessarily be separated from each other.
“It is a little bit suffocating to only be known as this queer, lesbian, pansexual representative,” said Gonzalez. “While that’s important to me, it does create an invisibility to other parts of me. I don’t want it to overshadow the work I want to do to serve my district.”
Gonzalez calls intersectionality the “lens” through which she “views the world,” and embraces the different aspects of who she is: Latina, working class, pansexual. Through that “lens,” Gonzalez says she’ll look at three major issues during the session: agriculture, the border and education.
First up is a dairy farm bill that could help shore up Gonzalez’s economically struggling district. She remembers her first time walking into the agriculture council meeting “all dolled up” and surrounded by older white male legislators: “They’re like ‘Who are you?’ I grew up on a dairy farm!’”
She’ll also be working on issues surrounding a new international bridge in El Paso, tackling how to “manage growth and development” in a way that doesn’t create more colonias, border settlements with little-to-no infrastructure or access to sanitation and water.
In the long term, Gonzalez will focus on creating a state work-study program, confident that it would be “huge” if she can show “how work study programs help students graduate.” And as for LGBTQ issues, she’s working on those, too, hoping to co-author bills with Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia.
Whatever happens over the next 139 days, Gonzalez certainly doesn’t intend to cut herself, or her staff, any slack: “I want it to be the most progressive, most inclusive, most welcoming office to everybody who comes in.”
— Andrea Grimes
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 11, 2013.