Houston elects a(n openly gay) mayor

annise parker with supporters
Annise Parker, center, with her partner, far right second from right, and their two adopted daughters with supporters. From the Dallas Voice.

Running on issues of public safety, auditing city departments to cut waste and fraud, and not raising taxes, Annise Parker became Houston’s mayor on Saturday night, winning a runoff election against fellow Democrat Gene Locke. As Houston’s first “out” mayor, Parker has been lauded by progressive organizations nationwide.

Some, though, noticed the absence of LGBT issues from her platform. There is an argument to be made that Parker’s acceptance of campaign donations and endorsements from groups like the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Human Rights Campaign necessitate a louder, stronger endorsement of equality and The Gay Agenda.

Still, the overall lack of LGBT issues or discussion from Parker’s campaign is understandable. Just as congressional electability in a conservative district forces Democrats to remain silent about party affliation, mayoral electability in a state known for its active evangelical population requires talking about non-LGBT issues. Locke and Parker had to court the GOP vote, even expecting an endorsement from Republican groups before the runoff.

But how should queer critics both celebrate diversity in leadership and allow Parker media attention as Houston’s mayor, not just as Houston’s card-carrying lesbian mayor? Is it unreasonable for a candidate to want to be identified by her qualifications and record on safety first, and her sexual orientation second? The problem with ignoring Parker’s lesbian identity is that it would require ignoring the virulent anti-gay campaign waged against her.

Despite the absence of any LGBT-related issues on Parker’s platform, conservative anti-gay groups distributed mailers condemning Parker for her LGBT endorsements and praising Locke (pictured here). Additional campaign literature was mailed that warned against someone “trapped in homosexual behavior” controlling the city (pictured here). Moreover, Locke actively sought the endorsement and contributions of the conservative, Republican, anti-gay Political Action Committee that produced the mailer.

Parker’s campaign even withstood Locke’s active courtship of a group of discriminatory conservatives who are known for forming a “Straight Slate”:

“With the emergence of the anti-gay push against Parker,
Locke has seized the chance to portray himself as the candidate of
choice, putting in an appearance at a Pastor Council’s event and
meeting with local conservative leader Dr. Steven Hotze, the local
power broker behind the so-called “Straight Slate,” a group of city
politicians who sought to unseat incumbents behind anti-discrimination
policies in 1985. (The gay-friendly provisions were overturned by voter
referendum; the incumbents, however, kept their seats.)”

Parker’s victory speech on Sunday night clarifies her stance:

“This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgendered community. Just as it is about transforming
the lives of all Houstonians for the better, and that’s what my
administration will be about.”

I’m still celebrating.

Join the Conversation

  • supremepizza

    Can’t we ever just be happy & celebrate progress??? Why the hand wringing all the time??? I don’t think in these economic times that running on a platform placing LGBT issues at the forefront would’ve been productive. Scratch that, as a former Houston resident I know that. Jobs, jobs, jobs are the #1, #2, and #3 issues for Texans.
    Furthermore, LGBT issues just aren’t defined at the munipal level. Except for local ENDA & housing ordinances, the big LGBT issues happen at a state level. So I say celebrate the election for what it is: an affirmation that a person’s sexual orientation should not bar them from elective office. Hoo-ray for Parker!!!

  • SP

    Not to be a stickler or anything, but the photo’s captioned incorrectly. It says, “…with her partner, far right…” but the far right of the picture is a little girl. It should probably say, “…with her partner, to her right…” or something similar. I’m just being annoying, I know.
    Yay, Houston, way to be!

  • Felidae

    I was wondering about that, thinking that maybe the person just looks very young. Also, I find that it is not completely clear where “center” is supposed to be here anyway, I actually can’t figure out who Annelise Parker is in the picture. I suppose it’s not that important anyway though.
    Nevertheless I think that some more detailled captioning would be beneficial in general for those who are not able to see well or at all.

  • Ellie

    I want to emphasize what a BIG, BIG step this is for Houston. As a native Texan and one who was born and raised in Houston, I am familiar with the demographics of the area. Conservatives are in the majority in almost all places and where they’re not, the folk who are more liberal tend to keep quiet anyway for fear of alienating friends, family and colleagues. I am glad that Houstonians are moving away from electing only white males as mayors (hooray Lee Brown and Kathy Whitmire) seeing as a couple years down the road, white males will likely be the minority in the city. Houston is a very very diverse community and it’s good to see this reflected in the government.

  • Toongrrl

    Oh my goodness!!!! If it can happen in Texas, it can happen anywhere!!!

  • Tara K.

    Super, super, super, super freakin’ AWESOME! Made my weekend.
    Edit: Why the need to include the word “adopted” in the description? Can’t we just call them her daughters?

  • aleks

    Excellent news.

  • pmsrhino

    I very rarely feel real pride for my city and hometown, so this is really freakin’ awesome. :D

  • Jeniann

    I think the two young looking girls are her daughters.

  • Gular

    I think the point you raise about identity politics is right on. Why does she always have to be “the Lesbian Mayor(tm)” and not just “Mayor Parker”?
    She did not run as a gay candidate, but she just happens to be gay. It’s superficial, I think, to just label by sexual orientation, like it is to label by anything else. “The Black Candidate” “The Woman Candidate” “The Latino Candidate”
    Some will vote on issues of identity alone; most people, as seen by Ms. Parker’s election, vote on important issues to them. It’s disingenuous to always boil someone down to part of their identity.
    However, many congratulations are in order to Ms Parker! I hope your tenure as Mayor is productive and what you can make it be — and more!

  • LalaReina

    I agree. I think most people voted for her regardless what they thought of her personal life one way the other.

  • Whitefox

    Great news! I’m glad to see that qualifications for the job and a good platform win out over the negative the potential differences can be when trying to get votes. I love to see it every time it happens.
    I absolute agree that she should be able to be Houston’s Mayor, and not just, as was said, “a card-carrying lesbian”, but it’s also part of who she is. She’s not just a lesbian, but let’s not forget that she is. It’s important because it is part of who she is, it’s part of what she stands for and it’s part of the breakthrough that she represents.

  • aleks

    I’m more thrilled that she’s a Democrat. However, this country (and other if not all democracies) run on identity politics. People vote for people who look like them, or whose story they think they understand. The fact that enough voters in Houston didn’t consider a lesbian too alien to identify with is a very hopeful and new development. Maybe someday we’ll be able to take that for granted, but we’re nowhere near that day now.

  • Auriane

    WOW! Awesome! I spent a decade in and around the Montrose area of Houston when I was a kid, and though I “hear” everyone on the substance/style issues that are being brought up in the comments section, I, for one, am glad to have a lesbian Democrat elected as mayor of the city.

  • Stellar

    I voted for her!!
    And I do have an issue with some of the commenters on here. Houston is NOT a Conservative city by any means. It does not surprise me that an openly homosexual was elected mayor. Yes, there are conservative areas, but most are not within city limits. I’ve lived in Houston my whole life (18 years) and I cannot remember a time where there was a Republican mayor. Give us some credit, people!

  • Stellar

    Actually, Hispanics are the majority in Houston, and it really isn’t too conservative within the city limits.