When I first ran for Sheriff in 2004, my family pushed me not to run. They thought the word of me being a lesbian, running for the highest-profile law enforcement job in Dallas County would bring “shame” on the family. It was a different time then, and there weren’t many other LGBTQ candidates openly running for a position like this. But I never really thought that was core to my campaign - what mattered most were the people I wanted to serve and inspire to make a difference. My identity was part of who I am, and I never ran away from it - but I just didn’t believe it should make a difference. Of course, to many people it did matter - I always recognized the significance of my platform - but I also knew it was just one piece of me.
But as I reflect during Pride Month - two moments from my career stick out. In 2004, just after I was elected, I was at the airport boarding a Southwest flight. As I took my seat, a woman sat next to me and began to strike up a conversation. She knew who I was, and we talked about Dallas and life for much of the flight. As I heard her background: a white woman, from a wealthy suburb, and a deeply Republican area, I had no idea what me and her had in common. Why was she was so excited to speak with me? As the flight came to an end, she turned to me and told me that her son was gay - and how the morning after my election he came up to her with a smile and said that he finally felt “validated".
It broke my heart. Why should it take a public official being elected for a child to feel validated? Why should it take me for them to feel comfortable with who they are?
I spent the next 14 years as the Sheriff of Dallas County. In that time, we made a lot of changes both within the department and in a society as a whole. Our country changed too, we saw marriage equality, more inclusion, and more leaders. The progress we have seen is immense, and we have made historic strides.
But as I was on the campaign this year, we took a trip to east Texas for a town hall. A young girl approached me after we finished the event and pulled me aside. In a shy voice she told my how she is bullied at school because she “likes girls.” She went on to tell me how her mom told her about our campaign, that she read up on my story, and was so excited she made her mom drive across town to come meet me. My campaign, she told me, had given her hope and made her feel validated. With tears in my eyes, I hugged her, and we embraced for what felt like ten minutes. As I held her in my arms, I thought back on that mother I met 14 years before. As many steps forward as we have taken, there is still so much more left to do.
Yes, I have had my struggles. I have faced discrimination, hatred and bigotry in all sorts of ways. But when I’m running, it’s not about me, it’s about the everyday Texan - and it’s about those kids. I am working so that we build a more tolerant, diverse, and loving Texas. A Texas where a child can grow up, no matter what their background, with a fighting chance and with the belief that they are valued by their community.
No child should ever need a public official to win an election for them to feel like they matter. That is the future I’m fighting for and that is why I’ll never stop fighting. Happy Pride Month!
Lupe Valdez is the former Sheriff of Dallas County, Texas and the 2018 democratic nominee for governor of Texas.