At the Texas Democratic Convention’s LGBT caucus this morning, I caught up with Jenifer Rene Pool, the first transgender Texan to win a Democratic primary — or, any primary for that matter — in the state. Pool is running against 28-year incumbent Steve Radack for Harris County Commissioner in Precinct 3. After years of LGBT activism in Houston, and a prior unsuccessful city council run, Pool told me she wanted to give back to a city that has been “so welcoming” to her throughout her life, especially since she transitioned more than 20 years ago.
I asked her about what she thinks her primary win means for the transgender community and greater LGBT equality.
“When I transitioned over 20 years ago, I knew that I would never go into a closet,” she told me. “The only way to [make things] better [for] all is to stand up. Harvey Milk said all of our problems in the LGBT community will go away as soon as we stand up and tell everybody who they are, and that’s what I’m doing.”
She said that during her primary campaign, her Democratic opponent never used her gender identity against her. Now, as her general election run against Radack gets underway, she said she’s getting threats and hateful messages, mostly via email. She said that anyone in the LGBT community running for public office has to develop a thick skin: “the armadillo hide.”
“I have to admit there are times when I keep a strong demeanor, and lose it in the background somewhere, because I was subject to bullying when I was growing up,” she said.
Pool attended her first Texas Democratic Convention 11 years ago as the chairperson of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and she remembers a small, “ad hoc” huddle of LGBT Texans.
Today, it was standing room only at the LGBT Caucus.
“We’re standing up and saying we are humans too.” said Pool. “We are equal and it has nothing to do with who we sleep with, it has to do with who we love and who we stand for. I’m gratified that we got a standing room only. I was very much surprised, I would say that we’re competing with the women’s caucus and that’s very gratifying.”
We chatted a bit about the bitter fight over Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) last year. I asked her, as someone who is active in Houston politics and LGBT activism, what she took away from that experience. The “lies” perpetuated during the campaign — specifically the “bathroom” message perpetuated by the anti-HERO folks — are playing out in other states, like North Carolina, she said.
“We have to continue the fight,” she said. “Losing that election empowered the conservatives to go to various states and legislatures to try, using the bathroom issue, which was always a lie, to perpetuate their legislative agenda to put down the LGBT community by using [transgender people] to do so. Ten years ago it was all about being gay. Now it’s about being trans.”
Finally, we covered the presidential election. Pool said she supports Hillary Clinton, but that “either one of the Democrats satisfy” her, as long as a Democrat wins.
“Our nation cannot afford to have the Republican win the election. We need to sweep the House and Senate. We need to chip away at the legislative majority [of conservatives]. I want to make sure that I will do everything to help a Democrat win. If she wins, I win.”