AUSTIN — The number of blacks LGBTQ state legislators in Texas is about to triple.
In May, Yolanda Jones become the state’s first openly gay and black state legislator when he won a close special election to represent Houston in the Texas House of Representatives. His Republican opponent then dropped out of the race.
Then on Tuesday, Christian “Manuel” Hayes and Venton Jones, representing Beaumont and Dallas, respectively, became the first two openly gay black men elected to the state legislature. Venton Jones will also be the first openly HIV-positive Texas legislator.
Together, they bring the number of openly LGBTQ state legislators to eight, just as the Texas Legislature is poised to launch key debates on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and especially transgender Texans next year. All three are Democrats.
The 2023 legislative session begins on January 10. Republican lawmakers have already promised to introduce bills that would ban gender affirming care for transgender minors, Ban children from participating in drag shows. Y prohibit mention of gender or sexuality in elementary schools.
The Republican Party dominates both houses of the 151-member Texas Legislature and maintained control over all elected positions throughout the state Tuesday, including governor, lieutenant governor Y attorney general.
Jones says she’s ready to take on the challenge.
“I am ready to fight for democratic principles and fight for LGBTQIA rights because someone has to stand up for us,” Jones said. The Dallas Morning News. “I hope to be in the gap with my three colleagues, and even with some Republicans.”
A record 340 LGBT people were elected to office during midterm elections across the country, according to LGBTQ candidate advocacy group Victory Fundincluding the first lesbian female governor and the first transgender male state legislator.
There are no openly LGBTQ state senators or state elected officials in Texas.
Venton Jones, who outscored his Libertarian opponent by a margin of more than 5-1, will represent a sprawling Oak Cliff district that spans all of South Dallas. Born and raised in the district, he said his legislative agenda will focus on “revitalizing and investing” in the community.
He said he will focus on health care, housing, education and voting rights, criticizing the Republican Party’s stances on abortion access and LGBTQ rights: “We’ve already seen the other side’s stance, particularly the radical position of the other side, to impede the ability of people to live freely, openly and safely.
Hayes, who defeated Republican opponent Jacorion Randle by a wide margin, worked for outgoing Beaumont Rep. Joe Deshotel as a legislative staffer for 17 years. He said he will bring that experience and what he called “Southeast Texas energy” to Austin.
“Honestly, it’s a mixture of being liberal and conservative at the same time,” Hayes explained to News on Wednesday. “We believe in change, but not in change for the sake of change”.
He said flood mitigation, education with a focus on students with special needs, jobs for rural residents and, as a child whose mother was abused, domestic violence prevention are important issues to him. Hayes said he hoped to fight anti-LGBTQ bills by educating voters on the issues he said they believe they oppose.
“I don’t think Texans are hateful people,” he said. “I think they’ve been given the wrong information.”
Ricardo Martinez, executive director of LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas, said having more LGBTQ legislators can even change the feelings of those within the body itself. About 4% of adult Texans identify as LGBTQ, according to data from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I hope that as legislators get to know their new peers, some of the animosity toward our community will start to fade. It is much more difficult to carry out a political crusade against a faceless enemy than a neighbor who sits next to you at work, ”he said.
Annise Parker, a former Houston mayor and president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said the new cohort of Texas lawmakers will also help push back against hateful rhetoric.
“Christian, Venton and Jolanda broke through these lavender ceilings due to their deep policy experience and exceptional fielding game. They have never backed down when our rights are at stake and we are sure they will channel this courage and compassion into Austin,” he said.