Voters in Texas added to the diversity of their state Legislature on Tuesday, tripling the number of openly gay Black lawmakers holding office and electing the first two Muslim lawmakers to serve in the Capitol.
As recently as May, there were no openly gay Black members of the Legislature. Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, became the first when she won a special election that month. She was elected to a full term on Tuesday. She’ll now be joined by Democrats Christian Manuel Hayes and Venton Jones, who both won their races Tuesday night. Hayes will represent House District 22, based in Beaumont, and Jones will represent House District 100 in Dallas.
“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,” said Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor who serves as president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
The two candidates will take office ahead of a legislative session in which LGBTQ issues are likely to play a large role. Conservative lawmakers in recent years have raised concerns about books in schools that portray the experiences of gay and transgender people and indicated an interest in banning some content.
The first two Muslim lawmakers are Salman Bhojani, who won election to House District 92 in Tarrant County, and Suleman Lalani, who won election to House District 76 in Fort Bend County.
Both men are also immigrants. Bhojani, whose family is originally from Pakistan, moved to the United States as a teenager. Lalani came to the country in the 1990s to begin his career as a doctor.
In the Texas Legislature, Muslims haven’t always been met with open arms. In 2007, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, boycotted the Texas Senate’s first-ever prayer by a Muslim cleric.
I’m sure he’s so much more compassionate and tolerant now. HD76 is a Democratic seat moved from El Paso to Fort Bend in redistricting. HD92 is a new Democratic-drawn seat in Tarrant County. HD100 is the seat vacated by US Rep.-elect Jasmine Crockett, and HD22 is the seat in Jefferson County made vacant by the retirement of Rep. Joe Deshotel. I wish I could say that all the newbies were coming into a welcoming place where they’ll have a fair chance to pass bills of interest to their constituents, but signs point to No on that one. Nonetheless, I welcome them and wish them all the best. Whatever they can do to make that place and our state better, we’ll be happy for it.