Texas elects first Muslim black LGBTQ men to legislature

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Texas made history on Tuesday when voters elected the first Muslim and South Asian lawmakers to the state’s House of Representatives, according to voter associations and experts.

Euless resident Salman Bhojani won District 92 with 58% of the vote and Sugar Land resident Suleman Lalani took the lead in District 76 with 57% of the vote, both becoming the first South Asians and first Muslims to move into the legislature were elected.

According to the Washington-based LGBTQ Victory Fund, voters also elected the first openly gay black men to the state house: Dallas-based Venton Jones won District 100 with 85% of the vote, and Beaumont-based Christian “Manuel” Hayes received 56% support in District 22.

Three black LGBTQ lawmakers will serve in the Capitol with the re-election of Rep. Jolanda Jones, who became the first openly gay black legislature elected to the legislature in May after winning a special election for House District 147.

The Texas Tribune found in 2021 that white males are overrepresented in the Capitol and whether the legislation more accurately reflects the population of Texas, it would have 26 other Hispanic legislators, three other Black legislators, and five other Asian legislators. The Tribune also reported in 2021 that the Legislature42 needs more women lawmakers to balance its composition.

According to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, a national group dedicated to promoting LGBTQ people to government office, there are currently seven LGBTQ state legislatures.

Membership statistics from the Legislative Reference Library of Texas are limited to gender, party affiliation, tenure, and age. The most recent data on race and ethnicity dates from the 78th legislative session almost two decades ago.

Mark Jones — a Rice University political scientist behind the fledgling Texas Legislative History Project, which tracks the evolution of state partisan policies — said he found no mention or demographic profile of any lawmaker who may have been Muslim or South Asian. He noted that the first Asian American was elected in the 1960s.

First South Asian, first Muslim legislators

The Asian American population of Pacific Islanders, including South Asians, is a rapidly growing demographic in Texas, said Azra Siddiqi, founder of WiseUp TX, a nonprofit that encourages South Asian Texans to get involved in civic engagement.

Eligible AAPI voters in Texas grew 74% from 2010 to 2020, according to American Community Survey Data analyzed by APIAVote and AAPI Data.

“There has never been a South Asian” lawmaker, said Siddiqi, who was legislative director in 2015. “There were – including me in 2015 – two other South Asian staff and one South Asian lobbyist. There were four of us, but we’ve never seen anyone represent.”

According to a report by Asian Texans for Justice, nearly two-thirds of AAPI Texans who responded to a July poll said it was important to have elected officials who are of the same background as the people they represent.

Bhojani told the American-Statesman that it drew him into public service after the 2016 presidential election.

Bhojani, a business owner and lawyer, said he helped put community pressure on authorities to release detainees after former President Donald Trump banned travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States and barred refugees from entering the United States suspended in January 2017. Bhojani was general secretary of the Pakistan Society of North Texas at the time.

“I felt like those four years are going to be really miserable for our community if I don’t do more about it,” he said. “I thought that same month, ‘I’m running for office,’ and on the last day of filing I put my name in the hat for the local office.

Bhojani ran twice for Euless City Council, winning in 2018. He faced derogatory comments about his identity from former MP Jonathan Stickland, who supported Bhojani’s 2018 opponent.

Bhojani said he has prioritized working constructively with other members of the Euless City Council, including those with differing political persuasions – a bipartisan mindset he will prioritize in the legislature.

Lalani, a family doctor, said he ran for the office after realizing the need for systemic change in the healthcare system: expanding Medicaid and reducing prescription drug costs.

“As a doctor, we cater to needs regardless of their religion and culture — I want to bring that same philosophy to the legislature,” Lalani said.

“The Importance of Diversity”

Jones said that as a black man who is gay, he knows firsthand the impact Texas legislation is having on various communities.

“Whether we are talking about the impact of the voter suppression laws that were enacted in the last session and their impact on communities of color, or we are talking about the introduction of laws that are coming to attack LGBTQ communities, how possibly the replica of the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ that we saw in Florida happened in Texas,” Jones said of his commitment to help make decisions about new state laws.

While the LGBTQ caucus and legislature allies have been a bulwark against bills that proponents say negatively impact LGBTQ Texans, in the upcoming session they are committed to getting more of those bills — particularly those related to transgender youth. Lawmakers and elected lawmakers will begin submitting bills Monday.

Jones got his start in nonprofit public health leadership, including political advocacy, as the founder of the Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network. He said socioeconomic status, public education and long-term community investment are factors that affect public health outcomes. He saw the candidacy as an opportunity to address these underlying factors.

“I’m very honored,” Jones said. “While I bring the representation, the intersectionality that comes with my background, I am so excited for the opportunity to represent all Texans and to be someone who understands the importance of diversity. the importance of intersectionality and the importance of ensuring we create a Texas that serves all.”

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