At least 49 openly LGBTQ Texans are running for public office this year, each vying for spots at the federal, state and local levels. The turnout is unprecedented — roughly three times higher than any previous election cycle in Texas — according to OutSmart, a Houston LGBTQ magazine.
In light of last legislative session’s Senate Bill 6, or the Texas “bathroom bill,” which would have prevented transgender individuals from using their preferred choice of bathroom in most public spaces, and the Trump administration’s proposal to ban transgender people from serving in the military, some experts said members of the LGBTQ community feel threatened, and, consequently, motivated to create change.
“It makes perfect sense,” government professor Sean Theriault said. “People are feeling like they’re under attack, so they’re using their voices and mobilizing. When other people see that, they mobilize too. There’s a mobilization snowball effect happening.”
The phenomenon isn’t just occurring in Texas, but Theriault said he suspects the state’s culture and political past have created a sweet spot for change.
The pool of LGBTQ candidates includes two for governor, one for Texas Supreme Court, three for Texas Senate, 11 for Texas House, eight for Congress and one for Austin City Council, OutSmart reported.
These candidates include Dallas natives Jeffrey Payne and Lupe Valdez, who are both running for governor. Come March, they will face off in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Jensen Soderlund, president of UT’s chapter of Texas Rising, a progressive nonpartisan political group, said electing more LGBTQ people to office will help ensure anti-LGBTQ legislation stays off Texas’ future agenda.
“It’s a lot less likely that we’ll have another bathroom bill if members of the LGBTQ community are involved in the decision making,” government junior Soderlund said. “There are a lot of anti-LGBTQ people in office right now, and a lot of anti-LGBTQ sentiment throughout the state. If we want to change that, we should start electing more LGBTQ people into office.”
Ann Cvetkovich, director of UT’s LGBTQ Studies Program, said in an email that LGBTQ rights have been violated on different fronts.
“It’s exciting to see the LGBTQ constituency rise up to seek visible forms of power,” Cvetkovich said. “Electoral politics are one but not the only place of political power, and it’s important to have as much diversity as possible. Especially since legislative politics are one place where we are seeing a lot of pushback against LGBTQ rights, from gay marriage to transgender rights.”
Theriault said more diversity in government will result in better policy making.
“The idealized vision that we have for our representative bodies is that they are representative,” Theriault said. “We mean that not only ideologically, but also demographically. When you have more of a diversity of folks sitting around the table, it seems to me that the decisions they make are going to be validated just by the input that’s provided by the people sitting at the table.”
While it’s exciting to see so many LGBTQ people run for office, Soderlund said there is a long road ahead in terms of achieving true equality.
“We had a big win with the Supreme Court and legalizing gay marriage, but we’ve had a bunch of losses recently,” Soderlund said. “There are still issues that need to be discussed. Our fight is just beginning.”