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Lauren Ashley Simmons declares victory over Texas Rep. Shawn Thierry, who broke with Democrats on LGBTQ+ votes

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Lauren Ashley Simmons declares victory over Texas Rep. Shawn Thierry, who broke with Democrats on LGBTQ+ votes

May 29, 2024 | 12:12 am ET
By Jasper Scherer
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Lauren Ashley Simmons declares victory over Texas Rep. Shawn Thierry, who broke with Democrats on LGBTQ votes
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Lauren Ashley Simmons talks with volunteers before block walking on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in the Meyerland neighborhood of Houston (Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune)

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State Rep. Shawn Thierry was defeated Tuesday by primary challenger Lauren Ashley Simmons, denying the Houston Democrat a fifth term after she sided with Republicans last year on a handful of bills opposed by the LGBTQ+ community.

Simmons declared victory with a double-digit lead over Thierry. The contest was decided by Tuesday’s runoff after Simmons narrowly missed defeating Thierry outright in the March primary.

"We did it, y'all," Simmons said in a speech at her election night watch party, where she declared victory and told supporters she "wanted to be a clear example of what you can do when you have the power of the people behind you."

Thierry, a 54-year-old Houston attorney, had been in her own party’s crosshairs since last spring, when she voted for a measure barring gender-transitioning care for minors, and then delivered an emotional speech from the House floor explaining why she broke with her party. Thierry’s vote, and her viral remarks, prompted a spirited and well-funded challenge from Simmons, a 36-year-old labor organizer.

A number of prominent Houston Democrats lined up behind Simmons, including some of Thierry’s current and former colleagues in the Texas House — an unusually public show of repudiation from an incumbent’s own party. Thierry countered with her own slate of endorsements from Black church leaders and six of her Democratic colleagues.

Thierry also broke ranks from her party to support a GOP bill aimed at removing sexually explicit books from school libraries, a designation critics feared would be used to target LGBTQ+ literature. She also voted for a bill requiring transgender college athletes to play on teams that align with their sex assigned at birth.

Fanning the flames further, Thierry was quoted by the Houston Chronicle editorial board earlier this year appearing to dismiss Simmons’ Texas House supporters as “the gay ones.” Thierry said the quote was “taken completely out of context from a larger discussion,” but in any case, Simmons’ campaign told the Chronicle that they received a major surge in fundraising after Thierry’s remarks were published.

The Simmons-Thierry contest emerged as a test of whether Democratic lawmakers who do not fully support LGBTQ+ causes can remain in good standing with their own party’s voters. Thierry insisted her votes reflected the will of her constituents.

Critics of Thierry’s remarks on the gender-transitioning bill noted she ignored the fact that treatment decisions for minors could only be made by parents or legal guardians. A consensus of major medical groups has also argued that gender-transitioning care should be available to children and teens in the care of doctors, while also recommending that patients receive counseling about how the procedure could affect their fertility.

Thierry’s comments drew praise from some of her Republican colleagues, who called it a brave rebuke of what they see as a radical stance. She received a large chunk of her campaign funding from GOP donors during the primary, along with groups advocating for charter schools and school vouchers.

In her election night remarks, Simmons said her campaign overcame "big Republican money" and "corporate PACs" backing Thierry.

With her win on Tuesday, Simmons will face Republican Lance York in the November general election for House District 146.

The district covers parts of south and southwest Houston and leans heavily Democratic — Joe Biden carried it by nearly 80 percentage points in 2020.

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