Fourteen of the 35 gay, bisexual and transgender candidates who ran for office in Texas during the midterms claimed victory Tuesday night — a 40 percent success rate in deep-red Texas — and national and state activists say they’re confident this election cycle carved a path for a future “rainbow wave” in Texas.
The historic number of Texas candidates who ran for offices from governor down to city council positions joined a record-shattering rank of more than 400 LGBTQ individuals on national midterm ballots this year.
“It shows that politics are changing and that more LGBTQ people feel comfortable to step out and run openly,” said Sean Meloy, political director at Victory Fund, a Washington D.C.-based LGBTQ group that fundraised for several Texas races.
LGBTQ candidates had plenty of fuel to inspire their campaigns and galvanize supporters, from Texas’ controversial “bathroom bill” to the Trump administration’s plans to eliminate "transgender" from legal terms.
Julie Johnson and Jessica González, two lesbian candidates from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, won their races for Texas House seats. Johnson defeated Republican incumbent Matt Rinaldi of Irving, while González ran uncontested. They’ll be joined by Erin Zwiener, a bisexual House candidate who won a seat in Central Texas by defeating Republican Ken Strange. The three will more than double the number of openly gay women in the Texas House of Representatives.
In Harris County, five LGBTQ judicial candidates defeated Republican incumbents Tuesday. Jason Cox, Jerry Simoneaux, Shannon Baldwin, James Kovach and Beau Miller will join the three openly gay judges in Houston. Charles Spain, a gay man, also won a seat on the 14th Court of Appeals over Republican incumbent Marc Brown.
“I think we are on a new path,” said Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, an Austin-based LGBTQ nonprofit. “[One] that demonstrates equality is a mainstream value and that extremists who seek to oppose equality are not in the mainstream."
Perhaps the most recognizable LGBTQ candidate in Texas, Lupe Valdez, garnered national attention as the first openly gay candidate and first Latina to win a major party nomination in a Texas gubernatorial race. Valdez, a Democrat and former Dallas County Sheriff, lost to Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott by 13 points on Tuesday.
Valdez talked frequently about her race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic background during the election.
“I’m Hispanic, female, lesbian, Democrat,” Valdez said in an interview with the Tribune in May. “Diversity is what made this country strong. Diversity is what will make Texas strong.”
In Texas’ 23rd Congressional district, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones — a former Air Force intelligence officer, Iraq War veteran and lesbian candidate — fought incumbent U.S. Congressman Will Hurd to a virtual tie. Hurd remained less than a percentage point ahead of Ortiz Jones on Wednesday morning and the race is still too close to call.
Meloy, whose Victory Fund organization contributed nearly $9,000 to Ortiz Jones’ campaign and raised more than $53,000 on her behalf, said Ortiz Jones’ run represents a historic moment that gives hope to those fighting for equality.
“I think it represents not only her perseverance but that a queer woman of color who is also a veteran should not be underestimated,” Meloy said.