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United States

Texas Democrat who joined GOP in supporting ban on gender-affirming care for minors loses primary

A Texas Democratic lawmaker who broke with her party by supporting a ban on gender-affirming care for minors was ousted in a primary runoff that galvanized LGBTQ+ groups nationwide who then campaigned for her opponent in the race for the south Houston seat.

Rep. Shawn Thierry’s defeat followed four terms in which the Houston lawmaker typically joined her fellow Democrats on major issues, including voting against aggressive immigration measures demanded by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and a ban on diversity programs on college campuses.

But she outraged Democratic colleagues when she gave a 12-minute speech on the Texas House floor last year defending a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for minors. Three other Democrats also voted for the measure, but none were as vocal as Thierry, who lost by double-digits Tuesday night to challenger Lauren Ashley Simmons, a union organizer.

“Her vote was why she had a race, but when she doubled down and went really down the rabbit hole of misinformation, it energized folks in the LGBTQ community,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which supported Simmons’ bid.

Simmons will be favored to win the seat in November in the district, which is heavily Democratic.

A message left Wednesday with Thierry’s campaign wasn’t immediately returned.

But during an emotional debate on the bill last year, Thierry said her vote in support of the ban aligned with her conscience and the values of her constituency.

“I am making a decision to place the safety and well-being of all young people over the comfort of political expediency,” Thierry said. “It is my core belief and conclusion that we should remain consistent in the premise that children must be given special provisions under the law as they cannot fully appreciate the long-term consequences of their actions.”

While most Democrats support the rights, safety and visibility of LGBTQ+ adults and children, many Democrats nationally have been struggling to counter a barrage of GOP attacks on LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender people.

Simmons had the support of LGBTQ+ groups in Texas and nationwide. The political action committee of the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her challenge against Thierry, and called and texted more than 2,000 people in support of her bid. Equality Texas, another group, hosted block walks for Simmons, ran ads and established a website for Simmons.

Grant Martin, a political consultant with Simmons’ campaign, said that while other Democrats also voted for the ban, Thierry doubled down on her support for the ban.

“Our opponent after that vote actually went on Fox News and defended her vote and spread some of these Republican talking points,” Martin said.

Martin said Thierry also faced criticism for her support from several Republican campaign donors.

Thierry touted the support of Black pastors in the district that stretches across south and southwest Houston. Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor, said the race is likely to leave an impression with other Democrats.

“This sends a clear message to Democratic elected officials that if you break with the party on key issues, … you really run the risk of getting primaried and removed from office,” Jones said. “It’s the same type of purge and litmus test we’ve seen in the Republican Party recently.”

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Murphy reported from Oklahoma City and DeMillo from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Sean Murphy And Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press


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