AUSTIN — The number of Black LGBTQ state lawmakers in Texas is about to triple.
In May, Jolanda Jones became the state’s first openly gay and Black state legislator when she won a hard-fought special election to represent Houston in the Texas House. Her GOP opponent then dropped out of the race.
Then on Tuesday, Christian “Manuel” Hayes and Venton Jones, who represent 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 lawmaker.
Together, they boost the number of openly LGBTQ state lawmakers to eight just as the Texas Legislature is poised to take up key debates on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual — and especially transgender — Texans next year.
The 2023 legislative session kicks off Jan. 10. GOP lawmakers have already promised to file bills banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, barring children from drag shows and prohibiting the mention of gender or sexuality in elementary schools.
The GOP dominates both chambers of the 151-member Texas Legislature and kept control over every statewide elected position on Tuesday, including the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Jones says she is ready to take on the challenge.
“I’m ready to fight for democratic principles and fight for LGBTQIA rights because somebody’s got to stand up for us,” Jones told The Dallas Morning News. “I hopefully will stand in the gap with my three colleagues — and even some Republicans.”
A record 340 LGBT people were elected to office during the midterms nationwide, according to the candidate advocacy group LGBTQ Victory Fund, including the first lesbian governor and the first transgender man state lawmaker.
There are no openly LGBTQ state senators or statewide elected officials in Texas.
Venton Jones, who bested his Libertarian opponent by more than a 5-to-1 margin, will represent a sprawling Oak Cliff district that stretches across south Dallas. Born and raised in the district, he said his legislative agenda will center on “revitalizing and investing” in the community.
He said he will focus on health care, housing, education and voting rights, and criticized GOP stances on abortion access and LGBTQ rights: “We’ve already seen the posturing by the other side, particularly the radical posture of the other side, to impede the ability of people to live freely, openly and safely.”
Hayes, who beat Republican opponent Jacorion Randle by a wide margin, worked for the 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.
“It’s honestly a mixture of being liberal and conservative at the same time,” Hayes explained to The News on Wednesday. “We believe in change, but not change for the sake of change.”
He said flood mitigation, education with a focus on special needs students, jobs for rural residents, and, as a child whose mother was abused, domestic violence prevention are all top issues for him. Hayes said he hoped to fight anti-LGBTQ bills by educating the voters on the issues he said they believe they oppose.
“I don’t think Texans are hateful people,” he said. “I think that they have been given misinformation.”
Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas, said having more LGBTQ lawmakers may even change the feelings of those inside 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 begin to fade. It is much harder to run a political crusade against a faceless foe than a neighbor who sits next to you at work,” he said.
Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor and president the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said the new cohort of Texas lawmakers will also help push back against hateful rhetoric.
“Christian, Venton and Jolanda shattered these lavender ceilings because of their deep policy experience and exceptional ground game. They’ve never backed down when our rights are on the line and we are confident they’ll channel this courage and compassion in Austin,” she said.