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.

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