Texas State Representative Jolanda Jones is making waves in the political landscape as a trailblazer breaking barriers. As the first openly LGBTQ Black representative in the Texas Legislature, she is reshaping the narrative and advocating for marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ+ community.

Jones’ journey to public service was influenced by her upbringing in Houston’s Third Ward, where she experienced poverty and trauma firsthand. These experiences fueled her passion for fighting for the disenfranchised and have shaped her into a resilient civil servant.

Throughout her career, Jones has been a staunch advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Even before realizing her own identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she tirelessly championed causes such as marriage equality and fought for the rights of domestic violence victims. Her commitment to these issues has been unwavering.

Notably, Jones has been at the forefront of inclusivity. She made history as the first non-transgender person to participate in a Transgender Day of Remembrance event and employed an openly transgender staffer, showcasing her dedication to breaking down barriers and fostering inclusivity within the political sphere.

While she doesn’t always lead with her LGBTQ+ identity, Jones recognizes the significance of her milestone and aims to use her platform to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, particularly Black transgender women who are disproportionately affected by violence and discrimination.

As a Houston-based criminal defense attorney with a commanding presence and a powerful voice, Jones continues to fearlessly advocate for the rights of marginalized communities. Her trailblazing presence in the Texas Legislature serves as an inspiration and a catalyst for progress, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable political landscape.

The Defender spoke to Jones about her journey to self-discovery.

Defender: Talk about your journey to self-discovery as a Black woman in the LGBTQ community.

Rep. Jolanda Jones: Kids are socialized to be straight, and if you are Black, the Black race tends to be homophobic. If you’re a boy and you’re not masculine enough they believe you’re a sissy or a punk. If you’re a girl and you’re not feminine enough, then you’re a dike or whatever. So, even as a kid, you hear these things and you just know that it’s not supposed to be like that. You are raised to marry, have kids, live in a house with a white picket fence. So, I did what I was raised to do and I dated men and I liked men, but I never had a close connection to men. I was married, and left my ex-husband because he abused me. I wasn’t a lawyer at the time, but I saw that I attracted women. I sort of rebounded to girls, as a straight person. I was confused, and my family really wanted me to be confused because a man hurt me. I struggled with being lesbian. I think I dated masculine presenting women so I could appear heteronormative. I ended up coming out when I was 50. I was in the closet. I didn’t realize this until I was on the city council. I was terrified that people weren’t going to approve of me.

Defender: Talk about your allyship. You’ve said that you were fighting for the LGBTQ community long before you came out.

Jones: Yes, I’ve been a member of the LGBTQ caucus since 2003 when I first ran for office. I thought I was straight back then. I was the first straight person, and I put “straight” in air quotes because that’s what I thought I was, to be ranked 100 in the LGBTQ caucus. The only other people that had been ranked were openly gay elected officials like Annise Parker. I was always an advocate. In 1994, I did an internship at the NAACP. I worked in their legal clinic. I was a law student and worked with Ryan White Foundation drafting wills for people with full blown aids, T-Cell counts 200 and less. I’ve been working with PFlag, educating schools about their obligations to protect LGBTQ kids. I’ve supported gay marriage before gay marriage was legal. I actually wrote the language for the non-discrimination executive order for the City of Houston. I’ve literally changed some people’s minds about the LGBTQ community. There were people who were homophobic but they didn’t know anybody gay.

Defender: This has been a tough time for the LGBTQ community, especially for Black individuals in Texas. How has it been for you in the legislature when it comes to your advocacy work now?

Jones: Obviously, I fight when I’m in the House. I’ve fought against the trans bills. They’re lives [LGBTQ community] are in danger. When I was on city council, I realized how destructive anti-trans, or should I say transphobia, was. I was newly elected. I didn’t understand trans and pronouns, and I kept getting into trouble because of it. I had to educate myself. So, I went to the Transgender Center of Houston, told them who I was, I hugged people and they started crying because no elected official has ever come there and treated them like they were human. I ended up hiring somebody I met at the Transgender Center and I was the first elected official to my knowledge in the states that hired an openly trans person. It was a trans woman. I’ve learned a lot about gender-affirming care through my staffer, and so have my clients. Even though I’m lesbian, I’m a really good person to represent the LGBTQ community in the legislature because I understand stuff that most people don’t.

Defender: What does pride month mean to you?

Jones: Authenticity. Because you need to stay true to who you are and you need to be that.

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...