Gina Ortiz Jones is running to be the first out member of Congress from Texas. But, she says, she doesn't only want to be the first. She is also running so that she isn't the last.
"It's most important our communities are well represented," the former military intelligence officer tells The Advocate. "It's not lost on me that I served under 'don't ask, don't tell.' Not only am I LGBT, I served in the military under a policy that did not allow me to serve openly. So I very much know that winning would mean ensuring we don't move [backward on] the progress we've fought hard for in so many ways, and making sure that we have national security policies that really reflect our values."
Jones, an out lesbian, first-generation American daughter of a single mother from the Philippines, and Iraq War veteran, is the Democratic nominee for U.S. representative from Texas's 23rd Congressional District, located in the southwestern part of the state and considered the most competitive district in Texas. Her opponent, incumbent Republican Will Hurd, scored 30 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's most recent Congressional Scorecard, which measures support for LGBTQ causes.
Having been raised by a single mother in San Antonio, Jones also makes it clear that she will protect affordable and accessible health care -- the kind that saved her mother's life when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Hurd voted eight times to repeal the mandate for insurance coverage of preexisting conditions. He's also adamantly against the Equality Act, which would amend existing federal civil rights laws to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.
"Bill Hurd is out of touch with this district. Gina is someone who has fought to live the American dream, and now she's fighting so others can," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
"Something that folks in Washington often miss or fail to acknowledge is the LGBTQ voting bloc in this country," Griffin adds. "In the last election, we were 5 percent of the electorate. That's nearly 7 million voters. There's 750,000 eligible LGBTQ voters across the state of Texas. If you add our fair-minded allies, neighbors, family, friends, coworkers, fellow congregants at church to that, and this pro-equality coalition can truly determine the outcome of these races here in Gina's race and other key, critical races around this country."
Being a lesbian and a woman of color who is also a veteran and would be the first Filipina-American in Congress, Jones is at an intersection that speaks to a large percentage of voters. Simply being visible, she observes, has had an enormous impact in her district -- which is predominantly Hispanic and runs along most of Texas's border with Mexico.
"People come up to me all the time and say, 'I've never seen somebody like you run for office.' When they say 'like me' they're actually referencing themselves," Jones says. "I think people are supporting this campaign, not only because of the values that I express, the issues that we're talking about, but also because they know that I'm going to have the moral courage to fight for them."
She continues, "Regardless of what committee you sit, what committee you chair, a member of Congress does three things: They create opportunities, they protect opportunities, or they erase opportunities. They do that with their voting record. They do that with their record of silence. And we're seeing every single day just how dangerous that silence can be."