U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee received the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus’ mayoral endorsement Saturday, beating out fellow frontrunner state Sen. John Whitmire after a fiery debate. 

The caucus’ backing gives Jackson Lee a notable victory over Whitmire ahead of numerous endorsements expected to follow in the coming weeks. An early poll from the University of Houston shows the two Houston Democrats far outpacing the field.

The endorsement in the nonpartisan race came at the end of a five-hour meeting and a raucous, hour-long debate over the screening committee’s recommendation of Jackson Lee.

“I came home because I know how great Houston already is,” Jackson Lee told the crowd at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church on the city’s northwest side after receiving the endorsement. “I want to be bold in my leadership, but I want to deliver and get results.”

Members of the screening committee said they were largely impressed with Jackson Lee’s answers during the interview process and her pledge to pass an equal rights ordinance for the city. During her speech accepting the endorsement, Jackson Lee pledged to hire a director of LGBTQ+ affairs for her cabinet, if she is elected mayor. 

Several members of the progressive-aligned committee tagged Whitmire for accepting donations and endorsements from Republicans, as well as his plan to bring Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to the city to address vacancies in the Houston Police Department.

Asked whether to accept the screening committee’s recommendation to endorse Jackson Lee, 136 caucus members voted in support and 53 opposed.

“This woman lives and breathes to serve the communities, not only of Houston but of this country,” screening committee member Sandra Moore said.  

Many members of the caucus noted that both candidates have been staunch supporters of LGBTQ+ rights for decades in their respective offices. Jackson Lee has served in Congress since 1995, while Whitmire joined the Texas Legislature in 1973.

Whitmire’s supporters repeatedly pointed to his opposition of Senate Bill 14, a bill approved by the Texas Legislature this spring that bars transgender minors from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy. 

“We have so much work to do because (the LGBTQ+) community is under attack,” Whitmire said. “You send me to City Hall, you’ll have an experienced, bold member that can get an equality ordinance passed.”

Mayoral candidate and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, addresses the crowd during the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus’ endorsement meeting Saturday at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church on Houston’s northwest side. (Annie Mulligan for Houston Landing)

Still, the endorsement hinged in part on Whitmire’s willingness to accept support from Republicans who see his brand of liberalism as more tolerable than Jackson Lee’s. 

“This was extremely difficult. Most of the candidates we know, and some we know really, really well,” said Aexis Melvin, a caucus member and the president of the Transgender Foundation of America. 

“My decision was pretty much based on the fact … with Congresswoman Jackson Lee, when her constituents need something, she gets it for them. I don’t know how, but she does.”

Jackson Lee has been endorsed by Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and pro-abortion rights advocacy group Emily’s List. Whitmire has received endorsements from the Houston Police Officers’ Union; U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston; and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation. 

City Councilmember Robert Gallegos, former METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia and attorney Lee Kaplan also spoke to the caucus at the beginning of the meeting, but debate largely centered on whether to endorse Jackson Lee or Whitmire. 

If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 election, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election in December.

The caucus also endorsed a slate of candidates running in other local elections in November, including Chris Hollins for city controller.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

Paul Cobler covers politics for the Houston Landing. Paul returns to Texas after covering city hall for The Advocate in Baton Rouge. During two-and-a-half years at the newspaper, he spearheaded local accountability...