Elections

A flood of LGBTQ candidates running for office in Texas in 2018

John W. Duncan is running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Barton.
John W. Duncan is running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Joe Barton. Courtesy

John W. Duncan doesn't lead off campaign events with the disclaimer, "Hey, I'm the gay candidate."

In 2018, that's not necessary, not even in Texas, where state legislators last session tried to make it legal to decline adoption services to gay couples, and separately to deny them marriage licenses on religious grounds.

Duncan is one of at least 42 LGBTQ candidates running for office in Texas in the 2018 election cycle, according to Outsmart magazine, which says that marks the largest level of representation the state has ever seen, nearly threefold. It attributes the groundswell to a reaction to the Trump administration.

Duncan, an Arlington resident and TCU graduate is one of five Democrats vying for a shot at the U.S. House seat being vacated by 32-year incumbent and Republican Joe Barton.

That makes him the Tarrant County area's highest-profile LGBTQ candidate in 2018, but it's not something he's focusing on.

"I am proud to have been listed among the openly LGBTQ Texans running for office," Duncan said. "The landscape is changing for LGBTQ candidates across the nation, and this is also true in our great state, but the voters we speak with are more concerned about how a candidate will fight for them and their families than they are about a candidate's gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation."

Members of the LGBTQ community with political aspirations haven't always been able to say that about the electorate they court — only six of the LGBTQ candidates are incumbents.

Duncan's campaign website says he lives with his husband Tim, who is a youth minister at a progressive Baptist church in Dallas, and with the couple's two dogs.

He told the Star-Telegram he decided to run after he and a group of 40 of Barton's constituents went to Barton's office in February 2017, "to voice our concern about the GOP agenda surrounding healthcare." He said they were ushered out "fairly quickly," without being heard.

"His running had very little to do with LGBTQ issues," said Tim Schaefer, a campaign spokesman. "We decided in the beginning that John would run a campaign focused on the issues that matter to voters, and that he would not focus on his sexuality, but also that he wouldn't hide it."

Another Arlington resident, Finnigan "Finn" Jones, is the only Democrat running against Republican incumbent Tony Tinderholt to represent District 94 in the Texas House. According to Jones' Facebook page, he began his transition from female to male in Dec. 2010.

"It is vital that we have a presence at the table when discussing civil and equal rights," Jones said. "Also, as citizens of the state of Texas with families and friends, we are just as concerned about healthcare, public education and the welfare of the people of Texas as any other citizen of this great state."

Duncan and Jones are the Tarrant area's only two openly LGBTQ candidates, according to Outsmart. Five residents of Dallas, including former Dallas County Sheriff and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Lupe Valdez, were on the list.

So was the lesser-heralded Democrat from Dallas, who actually joined the race before Valdez did, Jeffrey Payne. He's the owner of five businesses, including a popular Dallas gay bar, according to the Texas Tribune.

All but four of the candidates identified by Outsmart are running as Democrats.

Two more LGBTQ candidates live in Plano, one more lives in Carrollton and another calls Abilene home, according to the list. Houston is listed as the hometown for 14 LGBTQ candidates, while four are from Austin and four more are from San Antonio.

In 2017, at least five prominent Texas politicians were accused of sexually harassing or assaulting women. The list includes two U.S. congressmen, two state representatives, and a former U.S. president.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817

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