By Ben Briscoe – Contributing Writer

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson: "If we allow groups to be discriminated against and persecuted and all those sorts of things, it won’t be long before they get around to you, too."

The Democratic state representative from Houston talks about her campaign for speaker of the Texas House, and why she supports LGBT rights

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston is considered one of the strongest LGBT allies in the Texas House of Representatives.

Last year she was one of the 12 lawmakers honored as a "Hero of the 80th Legislature" by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. Houston LGBT leader Annise Parker is also a huge fan of Thompson saying, "When she gets behind something, she is just a force of nature. She is one of the more eloquent members and is absolutely tenacious and fearless."

Thompson’s most notable support of gay and lesbian issues has been opposing both the 2006 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a women and the exclusion of sexual orientation from hate crime legislation.

Thompson was in Dallas on Saturday, March 15, on a campaign stop in the race to become speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and Dallas Voice was able to sit down for an interview with Thompson during her visit.

Dallas Voice: Why do you care about LGBT rights?
Thompson: I care about discrimination, period. I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against. Any time it pops up and I have an opportunity to say something about it, I do.

DV: Why is that?
Thompson: If we allow groups to be discriminated against and persecuted and all those sorts of things, it won’t be long before they get around to you, too.

DV: What was your first interaction with the LGBT community?
Thompson: A lobbyist for constitutional rights stopped by office in the early ’80s. She was real reluctant to talk to me because she didn’t know how I was going to feel about it. But I told her I was fine with it. I told her that those of us who have been discriminated against have to stick together.

DV: Have you faced any criticism for supporting LGBT rights?
Thompson: Of course you get some because some people of my race (African-American) have an aversion to gays and lesbians. But we still don’t want to see them persecuted.

DV: Why do you think that is?
Thompson: It’s because of our Christian upbringing and certain passages from the Bible.

DV: How do you personally feel?
Thompson: I think people have the right to live their lives and make their own decisions.

DV: What could you do for LGBT rights as speaker of the Texas House?
Thompson: I’m not sure about that because the speaker doesn’t introduce much legislation, but what I can do is to stop legislation that will be harmful to people and will be discriminatory.

Stella Byrd and James Byrd participate in the ceremony in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in May 2001. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, standing, was instrumental in getting the bill, which was named after the Byrd’s son who was killed in a 1998 hate crime and which includes gays and lesbians, passed in the Texas Legislature. Pictured are, from top left, James Byrd, father of James Byrd Jr., Rep. Thompson, Rep. Steve Wolens of Dallas and Gov. Rick Perry.

DV: You’re a superdelegate who’s changed her support from Clinton to Obama, why?
Thompson: My constituents where so adamant about my support for Obama because I represent the black caucus within the convention. So I felt like we all should be speaking from the same page.

DV: So come the convention this summer you’re support is behind Obama?
Thompson: I’m going to support whoever the nominee is. I just want to make sure we don’t self-destruct again. This is too important of an election for that to happen.

DV: What makes it so important?
Thompson: We need change. We need a Democrat in the White House. It’s not even about getting a black person or a woman elected for the first time; it’s the issues. I would like to see a society where you will not be stigmatized because of your belief and lifestyle and [where] people will leave you alone and treat you as an individual who has the potential to add value to this society.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008
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