Houston’s very own Fran Watson, an LGBTQ state senate candidate, sits down to answer questions exclusively for About Magazine
(HOUSTON) The state of Texas has over 50 officials running for office during the 2018 election cycle. But none have quite the resume that Houston’s very own Fran Watson has. The family and estate-planning attorney has served as the president of the Houston GLBT Caucus, the Harris County Democratic Party’s Resolutions Chair, and has been honored by the Houston Business Journal, Pride Houston, Young Black Voices, the University of Houston Downtown’s Pre-Law Association, and countless other organizations, including About Magazine’s FACE Awards as Volunteer of the Year. Now, Watson is running for State Senate; and she gave an exclusive interview to About Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez.
I love Houston. Some of my greatest and saddest moments occurred in this city. I love that it is the fourth largest city in the country, yet everyone in Houston is connected some way. It’s the biggest small town that I know. I love the parks and I love the weather—fall in Houston is quite beautiful. This is my city.
Access is not being granted to everyone. Working to keep the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) by speaking up at city hall and getting to know so many people, politically and socially, has taught me a lot about people’s lives and the ways that the lack of protections can negatively impact someone. As President of Montrose Grace Place from 2014-2017, a drop-in Center for homeless youth of all sexualities and gender identities, I saw what happens when people do not have access to a safe home. We must work to change this. I learned that when people come together, change can happen. The upcoming election—both the primary and our November election—is an opportunity for people to come together to make change.
I know that your life has not been one without its share of misfortune. You lost your mother quite young, you were temporarily disabled due to breaking both your legs, and you’ve presumably been faced with the adversities that many POC, LGBTQ women are faced with. Was there one galvanizing moment in your life that really made you want to help others through politics?
When I broke my legs, I did a lot of reflection at home, and I swore that when I could walk again, I was going to talk to more people. The first few people I talked to—Christina Gorczynski, Paul Guillory, and others—were very active in the LGBT community. I was also helping my friend (and now law partner), Jerry Simoneaux, with his campaign. From there, I got involved in politics and quickly expanding my network and community of politically-engaged Houstonians. I went from helping with the Creating Change Conference alongside 100 people to joining 300 people to fight for equal protections through HERO. I went from volunteering at the polls for the Houston GLBT Caucus to leading the organization as the first black woman president from January 2016 – August 2017.
Your volunteerism and outreach inspire so many people to get involved and to do whatever they can to make a difference. Was there a person like that in your life (or people) that inspired you to be this sort of superhero?
Aww. I’m not superhero. I always say that I got started a little late and now I am tagging in. I think this was because of the people in the communities and my becoming enlightened by the issues faced by those I have had the opportunity to serve. When Jerry took me to club meetings and I would hear about ways to help, I just stepped in when I could. I tend to get energy from the people I am around, and witnessing people use their time to help move the world forward inspires me to do what little I can. This is why I have surrounded myself with so many great people for my campaign. I have now assembled a powerful team to run this campaign. It includes six women of color who are managing the details from Communications to volunteer coordination to political advising. People are willing to give up their time and offer their expertise because we all know that we can do better for the people of Texas.
Your slogan is, “People First.” Tell me more about how that came about.
My brilliant friend, Evan O’Neil, who is also the Digital Director on the campaign, recognized that “People First” truly captured my campaign goals. When we were talking about what my priorities are and why I was running, I kept repeating that it has always been about the people. I work with many communities. I believe we should all show up for one another, because, as Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer would say, “Nobody is free till everybody is free.” We need to re-shift the focus back to the people of Texas because everyone should have equal access to opportunity. Two weeks later, there was a Texas logo with silhouettes of Texans and the slogan People First.
Looking at your stances on the issues, it seems pretty cut-and-dry that you’re just looking out for what is going to help people—from healthcare to education to social justice and much more. Given that we’re in such a state of political discourse all the time, it seems, why do you think so many Republican politicians (read: the Trump administration) aren’t capable of doing the same?
Unfortunately, political ideology has gotten in the way of progress. When a few people control most of the resources and there is a perceived threat of loss, those in control can and will change the rules of the game to ensure the control remains with them. For instance, there was a time when small government and local control were consistently spoken by the Republican party. However, the actions of this last legislative session led by a Republican controlled legislature attempted (with some success) to usurp the power from local government. The rules have changed. As my pastor says, “Follow the money.”
Tell me how you’d like to improve the lives of the people in the LGBTQIA community.
First and foremost, it will fight for statewide nondiscrimination protections and an administrative mechanism for gender marker changes, so all Texans are included in our society. And I will work to ensure inclusive access to healthcare, including HIV healthcare. Because LGBTQIA people are part of every community, I will work to making sure that we focus on access to a strong public education and economic empowerment. I have been serving the LGBTQIA community for some time, and hope that in office I can continue to serve by shifting the direction of state policy. Previously, I have served as part of the LGBT Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, as Board President of Montrose Grace Place, and in so many other capacities in which I am always an openly lesbian community leader. I know that by being visible, I am a role model for others who would like to lead the state of Texas towards a more inclusive future.
If you could go back and tell your teenage self something to help guide you to this point with a little more ease, what would that be?
Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Find a mentor who has navigated these spaces. I would tell myself to hang in there, that the difficult times will teach you to fight for what you believe in and if you stick it out, it is possible to win. That people will support you. I would let myself know that I would meet an amazing, beautiful, supportive, and brilliant spouse named Kim Watson.
“I love houston … this is my city“
Many people don’t like to vote straight democrat or straight republican. Who else should we be looking out for in the elections this year?
Well, I am going to tell folks to vote for the Democrats and encourage folks to vote Straight Ticket Democrat, because this is the last election where we are going to have straight ticket voting. However, there are other parties that are going to be on the ballot. For the March Primary—and early voting starts on February 20th—people will vote in the Democrat or Republican primary, because you are essentially picking your party’s nominee for the general election in November. For the November election, there will be additional party candidates including those from the Green Party and Libertarians. There will also be independent candidates. The ballot will be full this year as there are many important judicial races that are up, including the Family and Probate Courts which have a direct impact on people lives, not the least of all LGBT families.
Who are some of the women (or people) in politics that have inspired you?
Women who make the decision to run for office to make equitable change is inspiring to me. There are so many great women representing us at the local, state and federal level, it is hard to single anyone out. Of course, we have the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Judge Ramona Franklin, Former Mayor Annise Parker. Watching Senator Sylvia Garcia in Austin this past legislative session was absolutely inspiring. I could go on, but these are all women ready to fight for what they believe in and I can identify with that. I believe in putting people first in Texas.
What can we say about Fran Watson that we haven’t been able to say about politicians of past? What is it that makes you the stand-out?
She is a product of the people. All the people. Her moves are the people’s moves. And Fran Watson is a black lesbian candidate prepared to do an outstanding job representing Senate District 17.
I didn’t have this planned until I got fed up with how Texans were being treated. I saw that mistreatment over-and-over in when I spent my time speaking up in Austin this past legislative session. Like the people who are supporting my campaign, I am ready for change! That said, one issue I care about is higher education and access. I believe the state government should re-regulate tuition at colleges and universities. Higher tuition fees, which are consistently climbing, are pricing Texans out of a college education. For students, including so many first-generation college students, they are having to borrow more money to pay the increasing rates, which leaves students, especially students of color, in large amounts of debt upon graduation. We must look at how we can make public post-secondary education affordable, so Texans can have access. Also, as I’ve mentioned, reproductive health should be on our agenda in Texas, especially with such high maternal mortality rates in our state. We need to be talking about the larger context of health and wellness. Inclusive healthcare which includes HIV care and abortion access is vital. Instead of passing laws that regulate the bodies of women and other people who may become pregnant, leaders in government would focus on breaking down systems of inequity and creating pathways of access for communities to be on a level playing field for success. For me, I plan to work towards economic empowerment for all communities. That’s why non-discrimination protections, equal pay for equal work, a living wage, and health care—these are the things that help to break the cycle of poverty. That’s what I will be fighting for in Austin.
Lastly, if you could tell LGBTQIA kids, or adults even, anything to give them hope in a time where hope is running short, what would that be?
That there is a bench being built of people who have felt the hurt and are working hard to change things. There are nearly 50 LGBTQ people running for office. In Texas! And as a community, we will get through this. Because we always do. Because as long as we continue to have each other’s back we are moving towards a more inclusive society. I have been inspired by the support of those around me and that’s what makes it possible for me to fight.
To learn more about Fran and to donate to her campaign visit her website here.
Primary elections are March 6th, 2018 with early voting beginning February 20th. You can register to vote here.