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Voters in Texas added to the diversity of their state Legislature on Tuesday, tripling the number of openly gay Black lawmakers holding office and electing the first two Muslim lawmakers to serve in the Capitol.
As recently as May, there were no openly gay Black members of the Legislature. Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, became the first when she won a special election that month. She was elected to a full term on Tuesday. She’ll now be joined by Democrats Christian Manuel Hayes and Venton Jones, who both won their races Tuesday night. Hayes will represent House District 22, based in Beaumont, and Jones will represent House District 100 in Dallas.
“They’ve never backed down when our rights are on the line and we are confident they’ll channel this courage and compassion in Austin,” said Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor who serves as president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
The two candidates will take office ahead of a legislative session in which LGBTQ issues are likely to play a large role. Conservative lawmakers in recent years have raised concerns about books in schools that portray the experiences of gay and transgender people and indicated an interest in banning some content.
The first two Muslim lawmakers are Salman Bhojani, who won election to House District 92 in Tarrant County, and Suleman Lalani, who won election to House District 76 in Fort Bend County.
Both men are also immigrants. Bhojani, whose family is originally from Pakistan, moved to the United States as a teenager. Lalani came to the country in the 1990s to begin his career as a doctor.
In the Texas Legislature, Muslims haven’t always been met with open arms. In 2007, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, boycotted the Texas Senate’s first-ever prayer by a Muslim cleric. Patrick now presides over the Senate as lieutenant governor, easily winning reelection to that statewide post on Tuesday.
“I think that it’s important that we are tolerant as a people of all faiths, but that doesn’t mean we have to endorse all faiths, and that was my decision,” Patrick said after the prayer. “I didn’t want my attendance on the floor to appear that I was endorsing that.”
In more recent years, the annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, in which Muslims from across the state visit the Capitol to learn about state government, has been met with protest. In 2017, more than a thousand supporters formed a human shield around Muslim visitors to protect them from protesters. In 2015, then-state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, left instructions for her staff to ask Muslim visitors to her office on Texas Muslim Capitol Day to declare allegiance to the United States.
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