LGBTQ candidates hope to bring diversity to state, local government

Sami Sparber

If elected, Lupe Valdez will be the state’s first openly gay and Latina governor. And she said it’s time for Texas’ leadership to reflect the communities they serve. 

“This election cycle has seen more women, people of color and LGBTQ folks on the ballot, and since many of us know firsthand what it’s like to be discriminated against, we will fight to stop the hate and fear-based agenda that the extreme right pushes against anyone who isn’t like them,” Valdez said in a statement to The Daily Texan. “Texas is as diverse as the sky is big, and our leadership ought to reflect that reality.”

Valdez, former Dallas County sheriff, is not alone in her quest to bring diversity to Texas government. A record 55 openly LGBTQ Texans ran for public office this year, according to the Houston LGBTQ magazine OutSmart. Of those who ran in the primaries, 33 will appear on the November ballot.

Jim Henson, director of UT’s Texas Politics Project, said the increase in LGBTQ candidates is likely due to the larger pattern of Democratic candidates contesting more races than in previous cycles.

“The Democratic Party has been much more open to LGBTQ issues than the Republican Party,” Henson said. “It’s more likely that some of this greater number of Democratic candidates identify as LGBTQ.”

As LGBTQ issues have increasingly gained national attention, Henson said it makes sense that more LGBTQ Texans are motivated to create change.

The pool of LGBTQ candidates on the November ballot includes Valdez, one for Texas Supreme Court, two for the Texas Senate, eight for the Texas House, three for Congress and three for the Austin City Council,
OutSmart reported.

These candidates include Danielle Skidmore, Bobby Levinsky and Jessica Cohen, who are running to represent Districts 9, 8 and 3, respectively, on the Austin City Council.

Skidmore, who is transgender, is running to represent District 9, which covers downtown, West Campus and parts of South Austin. She said she is motivated to bring diversity to local government in light of recent attacks on LGBTQ rights, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused service to an LGBTQ couple. 

“We saw the Supreme Court decision on Masterpiece Cakeshop, and now Brett Kavanaugh has been added to the decision-making roster,” said Skidmore, a transportation engineer. “The best we can do is help normalize queer people by visibly representing our fundamental humanity day in and day out.”

But running for public office in Texas as a member of the LGBTQ community is no easy task, Skidmore said. While on the campaign trail, she said she has experienced discrimination.

“Sometimes (it) means being the target, which I have been in numerous online comments,” Skidmore said. “We still have a long way to go, even in Austin and especially in the trans community. The best thing I can do is live my life without shame in the public eye and focus on being the first transportation engineer on Austin City Council.”

Skidmore said it’s important to have LGBTQ visibility at every level of government – especially in Texas, where the political climate is not always welcoming.

“With a failure of leadership nationally and in our state legislature, it’s up to cities to lead,” Skidmore said. “Justice and equality can – and will – win.”