Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones is currently fighting to become the first out LGBTQ person elected to Congress from Texas.
“I would be honored to be the first,” she told LGBTQ Nation. “It’s more important I’m not the last.”
Jones, a veteran of the Air Force and Iraq War, said the progressive policies she plans to fight for in Congress are personal.
“I always say I am running very simply to protect the opportunities that allowed me to grow up healthy, get an education, and serve our country,” she said.
Jones is running in Texas’ 23rd district, a mostly rural area that encompasses parts of San Antonio, along with 800 miles of U.S./Mexico border communities.
A first generation American, she grew up in San Antonio and her mother is from the Philippines. She raised Jones and her sister as a single mother. They lived in subsidized housing and relied on reduced lunch programs. Jones emphasized that these programs were not handouts for her family, but rather critical investments in their future.
These programs, she said, allowed her to graduate from San Antonio’s John Jay High School, earn an ROTC scholarship to Boston University, and go on to serve the country.
“These aren’t just talking points. These are things in my life that have affected me personally, and I know they’re critical for folks that similarly rely on those. I’m living what’s possible as a result of investing in vulnerable folks.”
Jones also served under the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and knows firsthand what it’s like to live in fear of losing everything. She is fighting to make sure no American has that same fear today.
“I had to sign a paper saying I will not engage in homosexual behavior,” she said. “My opportunity to get an education, serve our country, die for our country, all of that goes away if they find out I’m gay.”
“I have to think there are some parallels between that experience and unfortunately the fear our dreamers live with every single day. Their opportunities to contribute to a country that has given them so much, all of that goes away because people don’t have the courage to stand up and say these folks should be treated with dignity and respect.”
In the Air Force, Jones served as an intelligence officer. She has spent almost fifteen years working in national security, including serving as the Director for Investment at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative under President Barack Obama.
“I’ve seen firsthand the importance of American leadership,” she said. “I know how important our example is in so many ways, and frankly as we as a country are grappling with the effects of the coronavirus, it’s also a reminder of the importance of electing good, competent people that can lead in times of crisis and not cause them or exacerbate them.”
Jones believes the role that city and county, and to a certain extent state, governments have played in stopping the spread of COVID-19 has been crucial in the absence of a strong response from the federal government.
“It has been unfortunate to not see the federal government step up from the beginning in terms of heeding the advice and warnings of the intelligence community and this administration’s health advisors,” she said, “and also eliminating and defunding so many critical pieces of our government that would be key to identify as responding to it and leading in this time of crisis… again having worked in national security, you can’t ever forget about the importance of American leadership, and at this time in this global pandemic, countries would normally look to us for leadership and guidance to help orchestrate an international response, and unfortunately that’s not what we’re seeing.”
Prioritizing the economy over people’s lives is simply the wrong move, Jones said.
“[The President] does not understand that the economy will rebound when there is faith and confidence we have this public health emergency under control. That takes his leadership and his willingness to take steps that [ensure] Americans are safe and healthy, and he just has failed to do that.”
Before the pandemic, Jones was already focused on increasing access to health care, as Texas continues to be the most uninsured state in the nation. “We’ve got 29 counties in this district,” she said. “Eighteen have three or less primary care physicians. Three have zero.”
She is also focused on closing the gap between urban and rural areas. “A lot of that has to go back to the infrastructure that just doesn’t exist,” Jones explained.
One lacking area that is especially prevalent when so many Americans are homebound, she emphasized, is broadband.
“In many parts of the country, folks say just do classes online, shift to telemedicine. Well in many parts of this district that’s just not a reality, whether because people can’t afford Internet or because in many parts of rural or frontier areas there isn’t a broadband connection that supports that type of activity, and so unfortunately those communities are going to be left behind.”
This is Jones’ second attempt at the Congressional seat. In 2018, she lost to current Rep. Will Hurd (R) by a mere 926 votes.
“That’s not a number I don’t think of often,” she said.
This time, Jones has more or less the same game plan to win: focus on listening to people.
“Know the issues, know your community,” she said. “You’ve got to be ready to fight for your community, and that is what we are continuing to do. We are now having to do a lot of that virtually, but we’ll still continue to do that. This is about hearing from the voters themselves about what their communities are facing.”
Jones has racked up a number of endorsements, including from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Emily’s List, Vote Vets, and Common Defense.
Jones said she would approach her time in Congress the same way she has approached being a public servant for the past fifteen years.
“There are so many challenges: healthcare, immigration, closing the urban/rural divide, if we are approaching them from that public servant mindset and really thinking about long term strength of our economy and our country, then we will sooner identify the things that can unite us and find common ground [so we] can work toward solutions.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly states that Jones was endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC. We regret the error.