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Jess Herbst

Record number of LGBT candidates running this year

OutSmart does the math.

A record 40 openly LGBTQ people will run for public office in Texas in 2018, according to an extensive review by OutSmart. That’s roughly twice as many as in any previous election cycle in the state’s history.

The unprecedented field of LGBTQ candidates includes two for governor, one for Texas Supreme Court, three for Texas Senate, 10 for Texas House, eight for Congress, and 14 for various judicial seats.

Twenty of the LGBTQ candidates are female, and 20 are male. Five are transgender, three are African-American, and eight are Hispanic. Six are incumbents who are among the state’s 18 current LGBTQ elected and appointed officials.

“I think for many, the motivation to run is in sync with the adage, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,’” says Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. “We have recently been witnessing a continuous assault on our rights and freedoms. It is only by raising our voices and securing our ‘place at the table’ that we can ensure our constitutional rights to equal protection under the law are preserved.”

All but four of the LGBTQ candidates in Texas are running as Democrats. Kerry Douglas McKennon is running for lieutenant governor as a Libertarian. Republican Shannon McClendon is challenging anti-LGBTQ incumbent state senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) in the District 25 Republican primary. Republican Mauro Garza is running for the Congressional District 21 seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio). And New Hope mayor Jess Herbst, the state’s only trans elected official, is seeking re-election in a nonpartisan race.


The gubernatorial race is one of at least two in which openly LGBTQ canidates will face each other in the Democratic primary. The other is Congressional District 27, where gay candidate Eric Holguin and trans woman Vanessa Edwards Foster are among a slew of Democrats who have filed to run for the seat being vacated by U.S.representative Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi).

I missed Holguin and Foster when I noted the plethora of LGBT candidates in an earlier post; my apologies for the oversight. There are eight such candidates for State House who are not incumbents, plus two (Reps. Celia Israel and Mary Gonzalez) who are, and as the story notes about a third of all these candidates are from Harris County. Some of these candidates, like Gina Ortiz Jones and Julie Johnson, have already attracted significant establishment support. Others will likely follow after the primaries, and still others will fade away once the votes are counted in March. But as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play, and the increased number of players is a positive sign. I wish them all well. Link via Think Progress.

There’s also a companion story about Fran Watson and her candidacy in SD17. Like the DMN story about Mark Phariss, it identifies her as seeking to be the “first openly LGBTQ candidate elected to state’s upper chamber”, and also like that story it does not mention that she is not alone in that pursuit. Which, given that OutSmart listed Phariss in the cover story about all the LGBT candidates is a little odd to me, but whatever. The point is, there are two candidates with a legit shot at that designation.

More trans people are running for office

The best way to gain political power is to win elections, and to win elections you have to run for office.

Dani Pellett

The first time Dani Pellett tackled the bathroom question was years before the issue of transgender access to restrooms would become a matter of political debate — and more than a decade before Pellett would enter the political realm herself.

Pellett was in her early twenties then, a University of North Texas student just two months shy of seeking a commission as an Air Force pilot. But “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was still in effect, and she knew that to receive a commission she’d have to hide her gender dysphoria. Pellett ultimately dropped out of air force training, transitioned, founded a support group and began to advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Eventually, the group was successful.

“Did we just win? Oh, I think we did!” Pellett recalls thinking. The political victory got her hooked.

Thirteen years later, Pellett finds herself challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Dallas Republican. Sessions’ North Texas district overlaps with State Senate District 8, where Pamela Curry is planning to run as a Democrat for a rare open seat.

Both women are among a tiny group of transgender Texans who have run for office in recent years, partly in response to Republican leaders’ support for laws that target the transgender community. The Texas Legislature devoted part of this year’s regular legislative session and a special session this summer to proposals that would restrict transgender individuals’ bathroom use in public buildings. No bathroom bills made it to the governor.

Pellett and Curry intend to be on the ballot in 2018, and two other transgender candidates ran for local offices earlier this year. Johnny Boucher made an unsuccessful bid for Grand Prairie’s school board and Sandra Faye Dunn lost her bid for a seat on the Amarillo College Board of Regents.

Four people in two years are hardly a speck in a state of nearly 28 million, but that number means Texas currently has more transgender candidates than any other state, according to Logan Casey, a Harvard researcher who studies LGBTQ representation in politics. And it’s a disproportionately large group — Texas carries just under 9 percent of the country’s population, but about 14 percent of its current transgender candidates.

Casey said the political debate over measures targeting transgender Texans has galvanized that community.

“When you use a group as a political tool the way the bathroom bill has been used in Texas, that has effects on the marginalized group that is being used,” Casey said. “It’s not surprising to me that, given the hyper politicization of LGBTQ issues and particularly trans issues in Texas in the last couple years, that there are a lot of people — proportionately — running for office in Texas.”

See here for more on Jess Herbst. Dani Pellett is in a crowded field in CD32; she had a modest finance report for Q2. I’d say Pam Curry has a better shot at being the nominee in SD08 than Pellett does in CD32. Neither she nor Brian Chaput had raised any money as of July, but that’s a two-person race, and Curry will get some earned media, which ought to help. Whoever does win the nomination in SD08 will be a much bigger underdog than the candidate in CD32, but at least we have someone, and who knows, we could have the best year ever. Win or lose, participation matters. The more people see transgender candidates run for office, the more normal it will be. I wish Pellett and Curry the best of luck.

Texas’ first transgender Mayor

Meet Jess Herbst, Mayor of New Hope, Texas.

Jess Herbst

The mayor of a small Collin County town has become the first known openly transgender elected official in Texas history.

Jess Herbst, who was elected mayor of New Hope last May, came out as trans in an open letter to residents on the town’s website.

“As your Mayor I must tell you about something that has been with me since my earliest memories. I am Transgender,” Herbst wrote, adding that two years ago, she began hormone replacement therapy. “At the time, I did not imagine I would hold the Mayor’s position, but here I am.”

Herbst couldn’t immediately be reached for further comment. New Hope is a suburb of McKinney with a population of 670, according to the 2010 census.


Although gay and lesbian elected officials have held public office across Texas for decades, no transgender person has done so. In 2010, Houston’s Phyllis Frye became the nation’s first transgender judge, after being appointed to the position by then-Mayor Annise Parker. Last year, Houston’s Jenifer Pool became the first transgender candidate to win a party primary in Texas, but she was defeated in the general election.

Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride initiative, a Dallas nonprofit, said she doesn’t know Herbst personally but was proud of her decision.

“I’m happy that our society is progressing to the point that she can feel empowered to come out and be her true self in public office, knowing that she will continue to be welcomed and valued for her skills and capabilities,” Gaither said.

It’s too bad that Herbst couldn’t have been reached before publication, because as she explained on her website, she wasn’t actually elected Mayor. She was appointed after the winning Mayoral candidate in last May’s election passed away. Herbst was elected alderman in 2003, and was the longest-serving member on New Hope’s city council as well as its Mayor Pro Tem, so she certainly deserves the title of “first transgender elected official in Texas”, even if the office in question wasn’t Mayor. Interestingly, she’s still listed as “Jeff Herbst” on the New Hope website, though I presume that will change. It will be interesting to see how things go for her from here, and I wish her all the best. WFAA has more.