Meet Gina Ortiz Jones, the Lesbian Filipina Veteran Who Could Make History in Texas
An unprecedented number of women are chasing political office in the 2018 midterm elections. This month, we're profiling several worthy candidates who are seeking to effect change.
When Gina Ortiz Jones decided to run for a seat in Texas’ sprawling 23rd Congressional District, she wasn’t concerned about making history. But if she does indeed win this November against two-term Republican incumbent Will Hurd, the San Antonio-bred Democrat will break the political glass ceiling in more ways than one, becoming the first Filipina-American congresswoman ever, as well as the first Iraq war veteran, first out lesbian, and first woman to represent her district. No small feat.
“Of course, I look forward to being the first in a number of ways,” Ortiz Jones tells InStyle. “But for me it's more important that I'm not the last.”
Makes sense, especially in Texas. Of the 36 people representing the Lone Star state in Congress right now, only three are women. “It’s less than 10 percent,” Ortiz Jones notes. “And we all know how much representation matters so much right now, especially for women. Did you know that a woman having a baby in Texas is five times more likely to die during the process of having a child? Equal representation changes who's at the table having these discussions about important issues — like healthcare, and that affects all of us.”
Ortiz Jones’ time serving as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force — especially under the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — has also given her a unique perspective on many of the hot button issues facing our country right now.
“Serving under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' has shown me how important it is that all voices are heard,” she says. “Also working in national security for 14 years, both in and out of uniform, was certainly informative. As an intelligence analyst, I would always be thinking, ‘What assumptions are being made right now? What biases are happening? Who am I not hearing from?’ And frankly, when I think of our current political climate and the shortsightedness of some of our economic and healthcare policies, I think it's because our representatives aren't asking these kind of questions. Maybe it’s because they don't want to or maybe they don't have moral courage to do so. Either way, we need to get our country back on track – and that requires people asking a lot more questions.”
Read on to hear more from Gina Ortiz Jones.
Humble beginnings: Raised in San Antonio, Ortiz Jones’ upbringing has inspired her passion for serving her community. “I went to John Jay High School in San Antonio, where you start with 900 kids and only 500 graduate,” she says. “I want to make sure that the opportunities that allowed me to grow up healthy, get an education, and serve our country are there for other folks that may need a little bit of help, just like I did. My mother came to this country 40 years ago, after she graduated from the number one university in the Philippines, and she was domestic helper. So I think that the fact that I can — 40 years later — run for Congress, is an honor. I'm reminded every single day that this is a very special country.”
Changing course: After her time in the military, Ortiz Jones also worked in the executive office of the President until 2017. “The night of the 2016 election, I had an inkling that my role in public service might need to shift,” she says. “I had already served in countries where women and minorities are targeted, and I have seen what happens when democratic institutions are under attack. I actually wanted to see what good I could do from within and it became clear based on the direction of this administration that would be limited.”
A public service mindset: Ortiz Jones’ background in the military has been key to her perspective on politics. “A public servant's mindset is something that I look forward to bringing to Congress,” she says. “In the 14 years I worked in national security, I never asked anybody what party they were with; it just didn't matter. It was more about what we were asked to do in the interest of the country. And if we fell short of what we're asked to do, we would hold ourselves accountable. That’s what I want to bring to this role. I want to make sure that my community is well represented and also add to the type of leaders that we have representing us.”
Most important issue: When traveling around her district, Ortiz Jones says there’s one issue that comes up the most in her conversations with voters: healthcare. “People either can't afford it today, or they’re fearful that they won't be able to afford it tomorrow,” says Ortiz Jones. “I think we've got to work towards a system that covers everybody. There's real infrastructure that needs to be invested in to make sure that's a possibility. We have to have somebody in office that is focused on that and thinks that's a priority.”
What inspires her: Ortiz Jones says that she’s reminded everyday how important this election is—and that’s what propels her forward with her campaign. “Whether it’s an immigration policy that reflects our values or a woman's ability to make decisions about her own body—so many things are at stake right now,” she says. “A member of Congress, regardless of what they do or what committee they chair on, should do three things: create opportunities, protect opportunities, or erase opportunities. They do that with their voting record and they do that with their record of silence. And we're seeing just how dangerous that silence can be. So what's motivating for me is making sure that we get our country back on the right track with new leaders that are going to have the moral courage to do that.”
For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 12.