The Shawn Thierry situation

The Trib covers one of the more important primaries in Harris County this cycle.

Rep. Shawn Thierry

That Senate Bill 14 would pass was not in doubt.

The legislation, which would bar gender-transitioning care for children and teens, had universal Republican support and merely awaited final sign-off by the GOP-led House.

The only surprise that May evening in the Capitol was when Rep. Shawn Thierry, a Democrat from Houston, strode to the front of the chamber and announced she was breaking with her party to support the bill.

Children must be protected from transgender care because of its risk of harm, she said, citing precedent in Texas for allowing only adults to get tattoos, use tanning salons and purchase tobacco products. She said teenagers’ brains are not developed enough to make potentially irreversible medical decisions.

“This debate… was never about erasing trans children,” Thierry said in a tearful 12-minute speech. “For me, this discussion is about how to best protect and care for these children as they navigate through the challenging journey of finding the best version of themselves.”

Thierry’s remarks ignored that treatment decisions for minors can only be made by parents or legal guardians, as well as the consensus of major medical groups that gender-transitioning care should be available to children and teens in the care of doctors.

Republicans were quick to praise Thierry as a brave politician willing to buck her radical party. To Democrats, who watched the speech in stunned silence, she had betrayed their party’s commitment to protect LGBTQ+ rights and vulnerable Texans.

“It feels defeating, when you’re a Democrat in the Texas Legislature,” said Dallas Rep. Jessica González, one of several gay members of the caucus. “The last two legislative sessions had the most conservative bills. That’s why it’s even more important for us to stick together.”

The political fallout is spilling into the Democratic primary, where in her bid for reelection Thierry faces two challengers. One of them, labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons, is well funded and has secured the support of several Democratic officials — including sitting House members — and progressive groups like the influential Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus. A Democratic club in Houston censured her, accusing Thierry of turning her back on the gay and transgender community.

Thierry, whose small-dollar donations have largely dried up, now relies heavily on wealthy Republican donors to fund her campaign.

More than a third of Thierry’s donations over the past year came from individuals or groups who typically support Republican candidates, a curiosity in a predominantly Democratic district. They include $10,000 from Doug Deason, a conservative activist, and $15,000 from his pro-school voucher Family Empowerment Coalition PAC.

While she’s not the only Democrat in the House to have voted with Republicans on those bills, Thierry’s race has become a referendum on whether elected officials who do not fully support LGBTQ+ causes can remain in good standing with the Democratic Party. Thierry is insistent she can, and said her votes last year reflected the will of her constituents.

Thierry, who declined to sit for an interview but spoke briefly to The Texas Tribune by phone, said most of the criticism of her on LGBTQ+ issues comes from white progressives outside her district, who do not represent her base of more socially conservative, religious Black voters.

“I didn’t just jump out against … my constituents,” Thierry said. “Clearly, I have a good pulse of how the majority of the people in my district feel. I really do. I’ve lived here forever.”

But it’s a knife in the back for gay and transgender residents in District 146, who previously viewed her as an ally. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas endorsed Thierry as recently as 2022.

Ashton Woods, a gay man and founder of Houston’s Black Lives Matter chapter, accused Thierry of lying about her constituents’ support for her LGBTQ+ positions. He said the representative previously presented herself as an ally of the gay and transgender community, but in reality is solely interested in the views of a small group of mostly elderly supporters that agree with her.

“I don’t know who she’s talking to in my age group,” said Woods, 39. “She’s seeking a safe space where people share the same ideology as her.”


Anger with Thierry over her votes last year has created an opening for labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons, with a faction of Democrats coalescing around her.

Simmons, who has never before sought elected office, said residents encouraged her to run after a video of her criticizing the state takeover of Houston ISD exploded in popularity online. With two children in the district, Simmons was worried about Republican attacks on public education and felt Thierry was unresponsive to constituents about the issue.

She was shocked to see Thierry’s remarks on SB 14, which she felt were “ripped from the Republican national agenda.” Why not make a 12-minute speech on the most pressing issues in District 146, she wondered, like gun violence and the lack of grocery stores?

Simmons, 36, likened the plight of the parents of trans children to her own daughter’s treatment for sickle-cell anemia, which includes an experimental chemotherapy drug and opioids.

“Those are decisions that are hard for me and her dad to make with her medical team,” Simmons said. “I get really nervous when we start passing legislation about what decisions parents can make about their children’s health care.”

I also pointed out Rep. Thierry’s new funding sources when I rounded up the January finance reports for state office seekers. As noted in my post about the Chron’s endorsement of Lauren Ashley Simmons, my interview with Simmons is here and my interview with Ashton Woods is here. While we could try to get past the wrongness of Rep. Thierry’s votes (for some value of “we”, of course; it’s a lot easier for a straight guy with straight kids like me to say that) and mumble something about how some other Dems made the same votes, it’s the “fuck you” attitude coming from her, exemplified in her “the gay ones” comment in her endorsement meeting with the Chron, that just takes this well over the top. Rep. Thierry may prevail in this election – there’s clearly a generation gap on these issues, which you can see from the two supportive comments for her in the piece, and as older voters tend to dominate in primaries that works in her favor – but she’ll never be a factor again. When her last day comes in the Lege, whenever that is, it will be good riddance to someone who could have done good things but chose to throw that chance away. The Chron, which has a followup article on the reaction to “the gay ones”, has more.

UPDATE: And now this.

Days after facing backlash for making insensitive comments, Democratic officials are blasting Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry for misleading voters in a campaign mailer after using their image in likeness without their permission.

The campaign mailer features four photos: two of Thierry smiling with supporters at a rally, another with her alongside Houston City Controller Hollins smiling in front of the Barbara Jordan Memorial Parkway sign, and another with her and Democratic U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, where both hold a certificate that’s hard to read. Between all four images reads “Shawn Nicole Thierry, the qualified Democrat for House District 146.”

Hollins and Clyburn released a statement Monday morning denouncing the representative for using their likeness as an endorsement in the political mailer. They said they have reached out to her campaign to stop distribution.

“I was truly shocked. It was a brazen act because Representative Thierry is highly aware of the fact that I’m supporting her opponent in this race,” said newly elected Houston City Controller Chris Hollins in an interview with Chron Monday. He said he was shocked last week when he received a message from a constituent about the controversial campaign mailer with the Houstonian asking Hollins if his endorsement had changed. “Imagine what’s going through my mind when I see a picture of myself in a Shawn Thierry campaign ad. I thought it was incredibly dishonest.”

Hollins added that Clyburn, a veteran politician in the U.S. House of Representatives, didn’t know who Thierry was before he was told of the mailer.

“Texas State Representative Shawn Thierry is misrepresenting a photo she took with Congressman Clyburn as an endorsement in her reelection campaign,” Clyburn said in the press release. “Congressman Clyburn does not support Shawn Thierry, nor has he endorsed her. We have contacted her campaign and advised them to cease using his likeness in her campaign materials immediately.”

Hollins said Thierry’s comments showed a “lack of judgment and temperament” that showed she’s not the best person to represent her district.

“The lack of judgment and the lack of the kind of temperament that you would want to see in a leader was evident,” he said. “To make an off-hand comment like that was so disrespectful to the LGBTQ-plus community, and it’s not in line with Democratic values, period. And this seat was drawn by Republicans to be a safe Democratic [district], and so we deserve someone who’s going to be representing Democratic values, and Shawn Thierry is not that person.”

Wow. I don’t know if this was a screwup or a sign of desperation – candidates who are confident in their position are much less likely to misrepresent who their prominent supporters are, precisely because it leads to this kind of negative attention – but either way it’s pretty brutal. I’m not shedding any tears.

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3 Responses to The Shawn Thierry situation

  1. Greg shaw says:

    Republicans have an abortion litmus test.
    For the Democrats it “tally wackers in the girls shower” ( Quoting the great American film “Porky’s”).
    No wonder a plurality of Americans identify as “independent.’

  2. Meme says:

    The Tally Wackers might be true in Harris County as to Democrats, but it is not true everywhere.

    It is also obvious that you have not kept up with that race, Greg. There were other things that were damning in regards to Thierry.

    People don’t identify themselves as independents; most of them don’t vote or register as Democrats or Republicans. The media created the term independent to suggest that they were not part of a tribe of like-thinking individuals. But come November, they choose how to identify themselves unless they don’t vote.

  3. Souperman says:

    Har har. If we do have a litmus test, it’s support for people who are actually oppressed in society and trying to live their lives in peace, and at the very least, not actively trying to make their lives worse. Contrary to right-wing belief, nobody transitions to gain access to a girls shower or restroom. The effort required and the stigma associated with it is not worth it. You’re far more likely to run into a predator who is a part of a Christian ministry than a predator who is a trans person. However, the stigmas, dehumanization, and restrictions our society and our government place on the trans community means that the rate they are murdered and take their own lives is much higher than cis folks.

    Funny how “freedom” seems to be defined by the right includes “my right to infect you with a disease because I demand to have a haircut and refuse basic public health requirements” but people minding their own business and living in a way that has no effect on you whatsoever doesn’t fit that because God or something.

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