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Incumbent Democrat Who Voted to Ban Gender-Affirming Care in Texas Loses Primary

Shawn Thierry lost to Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer union organizer endorsed by influential LGBTQ organizations.

Texas State Rep. Shawn Thierry is seen after a meeting with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on July 14, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Houston Democratic incumbent Shawn Thierry was trounced in a primary runoff election on Tuesday. Thierry was one of only a handful of Democrats across the country who broke ranks with her party and voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, delivering a lengthy and misinformation-filled speech in doing so. After her anti-trans vote, queer union organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons stepped forward to unseat her, earning dozens of influential endorsements from party leaders and organizations. On Tuesday night, Simmons left no doubt about her victory: she resoundingly won 65%-35%.

On May 12, Representative Thierry voted to pass a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth, an exceedingly rare vote for a Democrat. In doing so, she spoke on the House floor, calling transgender girls “biological males” and arguing that conversion therapy was the true solution to gender dysphoria. She also voted against every amendment intended to mitigate the harm the bill would cause transgender youth in the state. This led to a vote to censure Thierry by the Meyerland Area Democrats, who reported feeling betrayed by her earlier assurances that she was an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Thierry’s district, the 146th District of the Texas House of Representatives, is not a swing district. It includes predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Previously, Thierry had beaten a Libertarian candidate 87%-13%, with no Republican running in the race. Thus, whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district is likely to represent the district in the Texas House of Representatives.

Enter Lauren Ashley Simmons, a queer union organizer who ran in opposition to Thierry’s anti-LGBTQ+ votes and activism. In her announcement that she would be challenging Representative Thierry in the primary, Simmons stated, “Our current representative has lost her way and now votes with Greg Abbott and Republicans to take away our rights, destroy our public schools, and hurt our kids.”

Simmons quickly garnered major endorsements, an uncommon feat for a primary challenger to an incumbent politician. Equality Texas, Victory Fund, and LPAC, all significant LGBTQ+ organizations, endorsed her. She also secured major union endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Additional support came from Planned Parenthood, Harris County Young Democrats, and Run for Something. High-profile congressional endorsements included Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett and Lizzie Fletcher, as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

In the lead-up to the election, which was quickly becoming a referendum on whether anti-transgender politics could gain a foothold in the Democratic Party, Thierry did not tone down her anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. She participated in “faith walks” with major local churches supportive of her stance and relied heavily on Republican donations. When asked about her anti-trans votes, she called gender-affirming care “Black genocide.” Thierry’s statements were decried by major community members, including Diamond Stylz Collier, who leads the Texas nonprofit Black Trans Women Inc. Collier called the comments disgusting, stating, “We have an increase of trans people dying of violence around the country and a real-life genocide happening in other parts of the globe.”

As votes poured in on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Simmons would be the victor. She secured a decisive majority, with the district voting 65-35 in her favor over Thierry. Reflecting on her victory, Simmons stated, “Thanks to your amazing support, we all won BIG last night! We are so grateful, and so proud of the strong message this decisive victory sends to those who seek political gain by using bigotry, hatred, and fear: STOP. Thank you!”

Increasingly, anti-trans influencers are attempting to make inroads into left-leaning politics, a strategy that has seen mixed results internationally. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Labour Party has been notoriously poor on transgender rights. In the United States, however, these efforts have met with far less success. Just yesterday in California, an attempt to place a gender-affirming care ban on the ballot was defeated. Similarly, in most states, Democrats have remained steadfast against anti-transgender legislation. Now, even in a conservative state like Texas, it is evident that there is little appetite within the party for sacrificing transgender rights, and doing so could jeopardize one’s political career.

This piece was republished with permission from Erin In The Morning.

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