Something didn’t sit right with me when, earlier this summer, Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Thomas S. Ramsey issued a pre-written statement to explain his reasons for asserting during a public meeting that members of Houston’s LGBTQIA+ community “deal with the grooming of children.”
Obviously, there’s the fact that these views are demonstrably false. And hateful. But beyond that, his justification for the claims he made while casting the lone dissenting vote against the creation of Harris County’s first LGBTQIA+ Commission felt … off.
“Every week I hear from someone in my Precinct with concerns of children and the LGBTQIA+ community. As their representative, I have to listen to their concerns,” Ramsey wrote in the statement.
Ramsey represents the most conservative district in the county: His district loosely wraps around the northern side of Beltway 8 above I-10, and includes Cypress, Tomball, Atascocita and Crosby. So it’s quite possible he does hear these concerns, which tend to proliferate in more conservative communities. Still, I wondered: Do these remarks about the LGBTQIA+ community “grooming” kids really roll in as steadily as he claimed?
I wanted proof. But what I found instead is that trying to prove this is not that easy, even when we are equipped with state laws that demand transparency from public officials.
Step 1: A Public Records Request
I began by reaching out to Ramsey and his staff with follow-up questions about his constituents’ concerns. But when my emails and phone calls went unanswered, I did what reporters often do: I filed a public records request. On June 21, I requested all communications Ramsey received from his constituents — including emails and text messages — during the first five months of this year. If Ramsey truly does receive concerns about the LGBTQIA+ community at such a breakneck rate, surely this would be made clear in his various inboxes.
The following day, I received a request to clarify or narrow my search. The commissioner receives a lot of communications from his constituents, I was later told during a phone call with an employee from the Office of the Harris County Attorney. As such, asking for every email was an extreme amount of work.
So I narrowed my search to include messages referencing the LGBTQIA+ community which Ramsey had pointed to in his statement.
Then I waited.
On Friday, Aug. 4, I received an email from the Office of the Harris County Attorney, informing me that the “office does not have any records responsive to your public information request and the clarification to your request.”
In short, Ramsey did not receive a single email or text message from any constituents within the first five months of this year, in which they voiced concerns about the LGBTQIA+ community.
So how, I asked, can these two things be true at once? How can this be a top concern among his constituents while also being completely absent from an inbox that I was told was so overflowing with constituent emails that the Office of the County Attorney could not reasonably turn over all those emails to me?
Step 2: Where’s the Calendar?
I posed this question to Ramsey’s spokeswoman, Amery Reid.
“As a public official, Commissioner attends numerous community engagement meetings and interacts with hundreds of his constituents weekly. Many pull him aside to communicate their concerns, and this topic is something that gets brought up to him frequently,” Reid answered, via email.
So I asked for a copy of the commissioner’s public calendar, in hopes I could attend these events and see for myself.
“We typically post his public events on social media,” Reid responded. “Please feel free to follow our channels to stay up to date on what we have going on!”
So I followed Ramsey on all his social media channels, which tend to post about events after they take place. I followed up with Reid: Can I please have that calendar?
Reid responded: “Did you plan on following him around and listening in on conversations he’s having with constituents?”
Well, I replied, yes.
I was not provided a copy of the calendar — even though elected politicians’ official schedules are considered public documents under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). And when I asked whether Reid’s suggestion that I direct my attention to the commissioner’s social media feed was the commissioner’s official response under the TPIA, my conversations with Ramsey’s team were moved to phone calls; I still didn’t receive the calendar.
I did, however, receive an invitation to sit down with Ramsey.
Step 3: A Face-to-Face
On Aug. 22, Ramsey, Reid and I met in the commissioner’s top-floor, corner office downtown for an early morning interview across a large wood table, in which I intended to reconcile his June statement with the results of my public records request.
During our conversation, Ramsey expanded on the concerns he says he hears from constituents, which he says largely revolve around an unproven idea of a tie between the LGBTQIA+ agenda and the indoctrination of children.
“Everything kind of gets lumped into one issue or another, but in general, it’s ‘age-appropriate,’” he said. “And words are used, like ‘indoctrination.’”
The crux of his argument, he explained, is an overwhelming parental concern about the content in books that have been shelved in both public and school libraries — an issue that, in Texas, has often revolved around queer content. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 900, which demands that booksellers rate books for school-aged children, racking and stacking them into three rankings: “sexually explicit”; “sexually relevant”’; and “not ranked”. The bill grew from a list of 850 titles questioned by former state Rep. Matt Krause in 2021, which includes more than 400 books about LGBTQIA+ topics.
This list of books is the bridge in the argument that links an entire community of LGBTQIA+ residents — about 70,000 of whom live in Ramsey’s district — to the action of “indoctrinating” or “grooming” children by pushing reading materials that are not “age appropriate” for kids.
That’s an unsubstantiated leap. So I asked Ramsey to substantiate it, at least, with proof of these concerns rising to the top of his constituent feedback.
“I hear from all different sectors within the community, and I think there is a concern for what our children — again, it’s usually in the category of being age appropriate,” he said. “And to debate, I’ll let you have conversations with the parents that talk to me. There are large numbers of people in the school districts that are within my precinct that have this concern.”
“I mean,” I interjected, “I would love to talk to some of the parents who talk to you.”
His response was quick.
“Well, I won’t tell you their names, because obviously that wouldn’t be fair to them,” he replied.
This is how conspiracy theories enter the mainstream — by allowing an unidentified group of people spouting a baseless and unproven claim to be enough justification for an elected official to stand up in a public meeting and allow the record to reflect hateful falsehoods. This is how we end up in an ecosystem of misinformation and disinformation that makes it hard to root out the truth from fear-mongering rhetoric. This is how people substantiate the disenfranchisement of entire communities, such as our local queer community who just want a seat at a table. This is how we dehumanize and disconnect.
And we can no longer allow statements like the one made by Ramsey, in which he scapegoated his constituents, to serve as a blanket excuse for wedging hate speech into the public record.
But what we can do is expect our public officials to show us their math — or at least their calendars.