Texas elects first openly gay black lawmaker

AUSTIN – Texas never voted gay, Black legislators until this year. In November, voters can send as many as three to the state House.

Earlier this month, Jolanda Jones became the state’s first open LGBT Black lawmaker when she beat out her challenge in a special election to replace retiring Rep. Garnet Coleman in his Houston seat. Sworn in last week, Democrats will serve the remainder of Coleman’s term before facing Republican opponents in November.

Then on Tuesday, Christian “Manuel” Hayes and Venton Jones beat their runoff opponents to win the Democratic nomination for House seats representing Beaumont and Dallas. While both also face opponents in the general election, their districts are solidly Democratic.

If all three are elected, the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus will grow from 5 to 8 members, tying California. According to the Victory Fund only one other state, Maine, has lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lawmakers who are more open.

If Jones wins, he will also be the first Texas legislature to live openly with HIV. He told The Dallas Morning News it’s important that the state can go from zero to three gay Black MPs in a year.

“It’s huge,” Venton said Wednesday. “And it’s great to not only have three black LGBT people, it’s three black LGBT people who are very qualified.”

“We stepped up from our own different seasons, but we connected to the same goal,” he said.

The three candidates each told The News that they learned each other’s bias in the election season.

“We’re family,” Hayes said Wednesday. He said that knowing that they can go to the Legislature together is better than getting alone. “Now I know I’m not alone.”

Jolanda Jones said three spoke regularly, including in Tuesday night’s election.

“We really support each other. We’re heavy to be the first,” he told The News Wednesday. “We’re just excited to be able to include a black GLBT vote in decision-making.”

Venton Jones applauded his colleague’s backgrounds. He points out that Jolanda Jones has long been involved in policymaking in Houston, including stints on city councils and school boards, and Hayes has worked as a staffer for members of his local legislature for nearly twenty.

Jones, who grew up in the South Dallas district where he operated, is a longtime public health advocate who served on CDC and White House working groups. He is chairman of the Dallas County HIV Task Force.

“It’s amazing to be in this race with those two people,” he said. “Throughout this campaign we relied on each other a lot.”

Jolanda Jones will face Damien Thaddeus Jones in November. Hayes ’opponents are Jacorion Randle, a Republican, and Independent Chad Gary. Venton Jones faces libertarian, Joe Roberts.

Annise Parker, former Houston mayor and president of the LGBTQ Welfare Fund, stated that candidates such as Joneses and Hayes can provide a bulwark to anti -LGBT legislation.

“Primary voters responded to the attack by destroying the lavender ceiling and sending Venton and Christian to the general election where they are ready to make history,” Parker said in a statement. “When they get in November, it will send a strong message that bigotry will not work long -term.”

Jolanda Jones said that the black LGBT community has unique interests that he and his colleagues can address as members of parliament.

“For example, black trans women are the people who are most killed. So that’s my concern,” said Jolanda Jones.

In 2019, The News reported that Texas led the nation’s murder of black trans women. Often, women are killed by men with whom they have sexual relations. Coleman, preceded by Jones, tried and failed for years to add gender identity to the state’s hate crime laws.

Hayes and Venton Jones each cited health, public education and suffrage as top issues. Venton Jones also said that expanding broadband in his Dallas district will also be a priority.

For now, however, he is interested in voter engagement and turnout.

“What’s most important is the jobs that are needed to make Texas blue,” Jones said.