On Sunday, the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus issued stern words against an attack ad released by Lesley Briones against Ben Chou, two candidates competing in a Democratic primary to get the chance to kick out one of the last two Republicans in Harris County Commissioners Court.
The ad released by the Briones campaign shows Chou with a gray filter and with what appears to be modifications made to his facial features.
“Recently, we saw an attack ad released from our endorsed candidate, Lesley Briones, that used an altered photo of her opponent, Ben Chou, that used racist, anti-Asian tropes,” said the the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus in a statement. “We implore Judge Briones to publicly apologize to Ben Chou and his campaign for use of this ad, and encourage all candidates to focus on the issues and demonstrate that they will be the best candidate to work for the common good of all of us and especially with uplifting and addressing the issues of marginalized communities. Racism has no place in our society and therefore should not have a place in politics.”
According to the Briones campaign, a graphic designer used a standard Photoshop filter without the campaign’s knowledge and the ad was taken down minutes after the campaign was notified.
The statement by the Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus is particularly stinging considering the caucus endorsed Briones after a close vote by members.
“It’s never a good feeling when one of your endorsed candidates has a misstep, certainly and especially when it comes to overt racism,” Austin Davis Ruiz, communications director for the caucus told the Signal.
Ruiz said the caucus felt compelled to make a statement because many of its members are Black, Latino and Asian.
“For us, we thought it was a good first step that Judge Briones took it down as soon as her campaign was able to, but you know what we really felt at the end of the day was the issue was just the lack of apology to Ben Chou and his campaign,” Ruiz said.
“At the end of the day, she’s still our endorsed candidate and we’re still supporting her,” Ruiz said. “We are not pulling her endorsement, we are not telling people to not vote for her. But when it comes down to racism it just simply doesn’t have a place in our organization and it’s not a value that we stand for.”
Briones is a former civil court judge who has also received the backing of two other incumbent commissioners, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, as well as other prominent groups and elected officials in the county, including the Houston Chronicle and Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher.
The statement by the caucus also comes a week after Chou, a former Harris County election official, addressed the attack ad in a press release where he said he was saddened to see Briones leveraging racist stereotypes that have been used to attack Asian Americans.
“With anti-Asian hate rising, Briones should know better than to redraw my eyes and face to suit her campaign. During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Houstonians of all backgrounds should be celebrating diversity instead of changing our features to fit someone else’s narrative,” Chou said. “The Briones Campaign owes an apology to not just the Asian community but to all Harris County voters for her vicious, hateful propaganda. I will be spending the last 6 days of this runoff election focused on the issues that matter in this race: protecting our voting rights and improving ethics in government.”