LGBT

Putting the B in LGBTQ: Molly Cook has the recipe for success

Molly Cook isn't afraid of speaking her mind, and now she's doing it as Texas' newest member of the legislature.
Molly Cook isn't afraid of speaking her mind, and now she's doing it as Texas' newest member of the legislature. Photo by BerlinRosen
Correction 6-3-24: Molly Cook has never been divorced or married. The Houston Press regrets this error.

June is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, often regarded as the tipping point in the modern gay rights movement and earning its recognition as Pride Month. Houston Press met with members of the LGBTQ community to learn more about their experiences belonging to this group. These are their stories.

Less than 100 votes. That was the slimmest of slim margins that clenched Molly Cook’s seat in the Texas Senate in the most recent election to fill Senator-turned-Houston-Mayor John Whitmire’s prior role. As small as that margin may seem, it is a great way to summarize Cook’s attitude … always rooting for the underdog, never willing to settle for less, and completely aware that it is the community she serves who put her the newly available position.

The policy maker ran a campaign that showcased why she cared so much about the Houston community: She’s a divorced woman who speaks openly about her thoughts on and experiences with abortion. She’s also candid about the fact that she is bisexual.

“I chose to run a really authentic campaign,” she said. “I had run in 2022 as well, so I had a feel for our district … a feel for who I was as a candidate and a feel for what it means to be authentic. I chose to share my abortion story; I chose to be out and proud; and for me, that is just who I am anyway. I'm just not a super-reserved person. I'm pretty extroverted and pretty proud of who I am and not ashamed.”

Her comfort in her own skin probably stems from her upbringing when she recognized that she did not quite agree with the popular opinion that it was a negative thing to be a part of the LGBTQ community.

“I was obsessed with Will and Grace as kid, and I watched it a lot. I just remember sitting alone in front of the TV set in the living room, all the lights are out, and I [recall that] I just did not understand why it's a bad thing to be gay,” she said. “I ended up in a private Christian school for a couple of years, and I sort of argued with some of the school leadership about how there was really nothing specific in scripture that made sense to me to say that being homosexual was a bad thing, or that it was like punishable by going to Hell or something really extreme.”

While Cook wrestled with her own belonging to what she saw as a “culture of hate” and not being able to reconcile how one person loving another person could be wrong, she found her respite in an unlikely place that would eventually influence her career: the school nurse’s office.

“I was in seventh grade. I hated school, so I spent every moment I could in the nurse's office because the nurse was my pastor's wife, so I've known her since I was four years old and loved her dearly,” Cook said. “I would go down there as much as possible and eat saltine crackers and drink Sprite and get out of class. One time when I was down there, I was lying on the cot, I remember she had to respond because a kid cracked his head open on the playground, and she came back into the clinic holding a trash bag with clothes and blood in it."

That, as Cook describes, was the coolest thing she ever witnessed. From there, her fate was sealed. From class skipper to budding nurse, the plans were set into motion.

“That love of healing and caring, that love of people, the desire to keep a cool head during emergencies and be trained and to respond to emergencies, it was planned at age 12, and it never went away,” she said.

Onward she went into healthcare, starting with a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University, and she went into a career as an emergency room nurse.

“Working about three years in the emergency department before I went back to school [for my master’s degree] was very radicalizing. You see a lot of suffering, you see a lot of poverty. You see how well people can weather disease and crisis when they do have resources, or when there is a safety net available to them,” she said. “But in reality, we have built environments where it is impossible to choose to be healthy. As a nurse, I couldn't give someone a ride to dialysis. I couldn't clean up a bug infestation or make their air less toxic, but as a legislator, I will have the opportunity to address those root causes.”

That kind of thinking is what eased her transition from nursing to community organization and now as a Texas Senator.

“To me, it felt like a very natural next step. It's an extension of my nursing practice, and instead of having one patient at a time at the bedside, it's 950,000 patients at a time, or 28 million patients at a time. Nursing is exactly what will drive my public service,” Cook said.

In the end, Cook is just looking to use her experience as a way to help the community.

“I just want to be useful, and that's always been the case. I didn't want to run for some ego project or to be able to check off a box,” she said. “All that I want to be is useful, and I feel like I can be very useful in an extremely tough chamber as a nurse, as an out LGBTQ+ community member,I think those are going to be really important viewpoints and additions to the conversation in that extremely tough chamber.”

To find out more about Molly Cook, visit senate.texas.gov/member.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd