Benjamin Chou, a gay Chinese American man running for office in the most populous county of Texas, is condemning ads his opponent ran with a doctored photo of him, which he says is racist.
Leslie Briones’s ads, posted Wednesday, incited backlash by Chou and organizations like the LGBTQ Victory Fund. Chou’s campaign accused her of altering his facial features, including his eyes, nose, and lips, and of white-washing his skin.
According to The Hill, a press release from the campaign states, “While this unfortunately follows a long history of doctoring images of people of color to make them look angry or menacing, as an Asian American candidate, Chou feels strongly about calling out the ad, which seeks to reinforce negative stereotypes that have been peddled about Asian Americans in the United States for more than a century.”
Trudy Ring of The Advocate reports that Chou is in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for office on Harris County Commissioners Court in Texas with Lesley Briones. The court has both judicial and legislative powers and is particularly powerful because it represents Houston, Texas in the most populous county in Texas.
“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 continues in the release. “The Briones Campaign owes an apology to not just the Asian community but to all Harris County voters for her vicious, hateful propaganda.”
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Chou, also denounced the ads. “This racist attack against Ben – who would be the first out LGBTQ Asian American elected to Harris County government – is disgusting and morally reprehensible,” their statement reads. “At a time when the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is the target of an unprecedented surge in attacks, it is not only hateful, but dangerous. Anyone who peddles in racism and bigotry is clearly unfit for office.”
Chou’s accusations could have particular weight considering Asian Americans make up 13 percent of the population of the precinct of Houston he and Briones are running to represent. The precinct includes the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little Saigon, Koreatown, and the Gandhi District and thus has the largest Asian American population of any precinct in the county.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund reports that there are currently only 32 LGBTQ elected AAPI officials in the U.S. According to Chou’s campaign website, he would be the first Asian American and the first openly gay person to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court.
Briones responded with a tweet, in which she insinuated there was no racist motivation behind the ad and instead accusing Chou of lying throughout his campaign. She later followed up with an updated statement.
“Shame on Ben Chou,” reads the statement. “We launched an ad, that was a well-sourced, accurate list of Chou’s lies that he has perpetrated and continued to perpetuate in this campaign. A graphic designer used a standard Photoshop filter without our knowledge. Within minutes of being notified, we took the ad down.” It is unclear whether the unnamed graphic designer is associated with her campaign.
“Shame on you for your racist photoshop of Chou’s image,” replied one Twitter user. “If you are qualified for the position, why stoop to such despicable tactics?”
The runoff between Chou and Briones will be held Tuesday. The winner will face the incumbent Republican candidate in November, potentially flipping the seat blue.
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