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Rep. Shawn Thierry, who split with Democrats on LGBTQ+ votes, forced into primary runoff

By Zach Despart, The Texas Tribune

Rep. Shawn Thierry, who split with Democrats on LGBTQ+ votes, forced into primary runoff” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Rep. Shawn Thierry, the Houston Democrat who had angered her party by siding with Republicans on bills opposed by the LGBTQ+ community last year, has been forced into a primary runoff with labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons.

With no Republican candidates in the heavily Democratic district, which covers a swath of south Houston anchored by the majority-Black neighborhood of Sunnyside, the winner of the May 28th runoff race is virtually guaranteed to hold the House seat.

The race became a referendum on whether Democrats can remain in good standing with the party if they are not fully supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. Thierry cast two votes opposed by gay and transgender advocacy groups: one restricting certain books at school libraries that led to fears of discrimination about LGBTQ literature and another that banned gender-transitioning care for minors.

While a few other Democrats also supported those bills, Thierry was by far the most vocal in her support. She gave a floor speech in support of the transgender-care bill that shocked fellow Democrats and won her praise from Republicans.

House Democrats also said they were disappointed Thierry did not join their fight to weaken the bills, which could pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature without any Democratic support. On the gender-transitioning care bill, Thierry skipped the votes on all 18 amendments her Democratic colleagues offered.

Thierry said her votes were in line with Black voters in her district who are more socially conservative than white progressives, and who she said represent only a sliver of Democrats. Detractors, including other House Democrats, said the party needs to be united in its commitment to protect LGBTQ+ rights and protect vulnerable Texans.

Thierry’s opponents coalesced around Simmons, who said residents asked her to run after a video of her criticizing the state takeover of Houston ISD exploded in popularity online. Simmons, who has two children in the district, said she worried Thierry was not sufficiently supportive of public education.

Simmons secured some of the marquee endorsements in the race, including labor unions, Planned Parenthood and the influential Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus. Democratic Reps. Jessica González, Julie Johnson and Ana-Maria Ramos, backed her, while Barbara Gervin-Hawkins and Nicole Collier endorsed Thierry.

Thierry’s small-dollar donations largely dried up and her reelection campaign relied heavily on wealthy Republican donors. Her contributions included $10,000 from Doug Deason, a conservative activist, and $15,000 from his pro-school voucher Family Empowerment Coalition PAC.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/03/05/shawn-thierry-houston-democrat-primary-legislature-simmons/.

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