Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who announced his run for president today, brings a largely pro-LGBTQ record along with a high national profile to the race.
The El Paso Democrat gained that high profile when he ran for U.S. Senate last year against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, known for his ultraconservative stances, including opposition to LGBTQ rights. O’Rourke lost, but the race was close, with Cruz winning 50.9 percent of the vote and O’Rourke 48.3 percent.
O’Rourke’s Senate campaign was marked by a series of town hall meetings throughout Texas, and LGBTQ issues came up at several of them. At one in Dallas in March of last year, audience member Max, a bisexual transgender boy, asked the candidate what he would do to protect LGBTQ people.
O’Rourke responded by condemning Texas’s anti-transgender “bathroom bill” (which did not pass), the state’s law allowing adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ applicants and others who offend their religious beliefs, and Cruz’s support of federal judicial nominee Jeff Mateer, who once said transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan.” The Democrat pledged to work for a different kind of Texas.
“I want to make sure that you know that this is a state that wants you,” O’Rourke said to Max. “I want you to be here, Max, and I’m going to fight for you.” He tweeted the exchange for Transgender Day of Visibility, which came two days later.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) April 1, 2018
O’Rourke served three terms in the U.S. House, from 2013 until this year, as he had vacated his House seat to run for Senate. He received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard in his first and third terms, and an 85 in his second term. He had HRC’s endorsement in his Senate campaign.
He did disappoint some progressives last year by failing to endorse Gina Ortiz Jones, an out lesbian who was the Democratic challenger to Will Hurd, the Republican incumbent in a congressional district bordering O’Rourke’s, as Hurd is a friend of his, The New York Times notes. Hurd won reelection by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Before his tenure in Congress, O’Rourke was a member of the El Paso City Council, where in 2009 he pushed for domestic-partner benefits for city employees, whether their partners were of the same or the opposite sex. The council approved the benefits, making El Paso one of the first Texas cities to offer them.
O’Rourke is the 14th person to declare he’s seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Two others — Pete Buttigieg, the gay man who’s mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior U.S. senator from New York — have formed exploratory committees regarding the nomination but have yet to declare themselves candidates.
With a diverse field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, including several women and people of color, O’Rourke has said he understands why Americans may not want another white male president. “The government at all levels is overly represented by white men,” he told Vanity Fair contributor Joe Hagan in a profile published online Wednesday. “That’s part of the problem, and I’m a white man. So if I were to run, I think it’s just so important that those who would comprise my team looked like this country. If I were to run, if I were to win, that my administration looks like this country. It’s the only way I know to meet that challenge.
“But I totally understand people who will make a decision based on the fact that almost every single one of our presidents has been a white man, and they want something different for this country. And I think that’s a very legitimate basis upon which to make a decision. Especially in the fact that there are some really great candidates out there right now.”