Texas' Attempt To Pass 'Bathroom Bill' Inspires LGBT Candidates To Get On The Ballot

Jan 24, 2018

More than 40 Texans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are running for public office this year. Advocates say this is an “unprecedented” number of candidates who are openly LGBT – and that this isn’t just backlash to Donald Trump's election.

Mary Wilson, who is gay, is among those candidates running for the first time.

“One way I describe myself sometimes is bleeding-heart liberal,” she says.

Like a lot of liberals, Wilson, the pastor at Church of the Savior in Cedar Park, has been pretty alarmed since Trump was elected – so alarmed that she’s running for Congress.

“I just shook my head and I was like, 'All right, what else can I do?’" she says. “I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been in education. And so the answer came to me as, like, ‘Well, I could run for office.’”

Wilson is running against three other Democrats – Elliott McFadden, Joseph Kopser and Derrick Crowe – in the primary for Texas' 21st Congressional District, the seat Republican Lamar Smith is vacating.

Wilson was among the many advocates who testified against Senate Bill 6, known as the bathroom bill, in the state Legislature last year. Opponents argued the bill, which ultimately didn't pass, would hurt transgender Texans.

People line up to testify before a state Senate committee on Senate Bill 6, known as the bathroom bill. Hundreds of people signed up to testify, many of them transgender.
Credit Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Wilson says she was concerned when she saw lawmakers vote for it even though so many people had asked them not to.

“You know, you can have people line up for hours to testify, right? And then the committees will vote however they were going to vote," she says, "as if no one had ever come to talk to them.”

Chuck Smith, the CEO of Equality Texas, says he's heard that story a lot.

“I think that this is in response to what we experienced in 2017," he says. "That being almost seven continuous months while the Legislature was in regular and special session targeting the LGBT community for discrimination.”

Smith says there are indications there could be a wave of liberal voters showing up at the polls this year — and that some of these candidates could have a good shot of winning in November. That could change the dynamics of the Legislature.

“It makes it more difficult for discriminatory legislation to be talked about in the third person or about people who are not in the room,” he says.