DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer email@example.com
Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she was delighted to be asked to come to Dallas to be Honorary Grand Marshal of the Pride parade. And she was a little surprised other cities hadn’t asked her.
“It’s a little hot outside,” she said soon after arriving in Dallas. “We do our parade at night for a reason.”
Parker said she forgot to bring a hat, but she never wears hats in Houston. Her reason sounded a bit like another Texas Democrat, Ann Richards.
“My hat covers the hair,” she said. “They have to see the hair.”
Unlike many gay or lesbian politicians, she didn’t come out after successfully launching her political career. She said she started as a lesbian activist on the front lines.
“I was debating the nutballs in public,” she said.
Parker came out in high school. In college she founded Rice University’s first LGBT group and began her political career as president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
During each campaign, the GLBT Political Caucus and her partner, Kathy Hubbard, have always been included in her literature.
“That way I owned it,” she said. “Kathy describes our relationship as not being out of the closet but being out on the front lawn,” she said.
The election received an overwhelming amount of media coverage.
“It’s unprecedented for an election for mayor of Houston to make the front cover of the Times of India,” she said. “It was difficult to slog through. It was a distraction at the beginning.”
Parker said she doesn’t think most of Texas was as surprised by her election as the rest of the country or the world. She mentioned a number of lesbian elected officials around the state including Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
She attributed her victory to a number of factors. Houston always elects moderate Democrats, she said.
Of the seven candidates running in the general election, she started with the highest name recognition. This was her eighth election and her opponent’s first.
“He made some rookie mistakes,” she said. “He got distracted. He got in bed with the right-wing hate-mongers.”
The week before coming to Dallas, Parker had been in New York and met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
She said he joked that he was partially responsible for her win. Had he stepped aside, Christine Quinn, the lesbian who heads New York’s city council, would have probably made a bid for office.
“All the gay money across the country would have flown to New York,” she said.
Actually, most of Parker’s donations were local, and while she didn’t have the most money for her campaign, she had a greater number of donations than her six opponents combined.
Parker seems to be settling into her new position.
She strengthened the city’s non-discrimination policies by executive order. Her revisions included gender identity and expression and extended protection to all city-run facilities.
Partner benefits for city employees can only be granted by popular vote in that city. She said she expects that the LGBT community will soon begin collecting signatures to bring that proposition to a vote and said she would like to be able to include Hubbard on her insurance.
Parker said that in effect she is making less than Bill White did as mayor because she has to pay for Hubbard’s health insurance.
With 2.2 million constituents, Parker said she couldn’t be just the gay mayor, but she would continue to use her position to advance LGBT rights when possible. She helps raise money and speaks for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund around the country and said their training was extremely helpful.
And Parker said Houston has benefited from being the largest city in the world with a lesbian mayor. Her recent trade mission to China is an example.
Earlier in the year, Parker was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful people in the world. She said she never would have made the list had she been “just another white guy.” One of China’s top trade officials was also on the list.
In August, Parker led a trade delegation to China. The Chinese trade official, she said, probably met with her because both were on the list and because of the curiosity factor. Men hold most government positions in China, she said, not out lesbians.
She said that while that was how her being a lesbian has benefited Houston, she can also use her position as a bully pulpit.
She may make a return trip to China where Houston and Moscow are competing to bring a convention to their cities. She said she hopes the mayor of Moscow is there and that Houston wins the convention over his city.
Parker said she plans on calling the Moscow mayor out on his terrible treatment of gays and lesbians. Among other things, he has canceled permits for Pride parades in the city and last weekend had his city’s best-known gay activist arrested.
With the November election approaching, Parker said she is remaining officially neutral in the state’s races.
“To represent my city I have to get along with everyone,” she said.
As mayor of the state’s largest city, Parker said she’s had more contact lately with Gov. Rick Perry than former Houston mayor Bill White.
“But I am absolutely livid that Rick Perry has an attack ad on Bill White that features me,” she said. “I don’t want to be used as a wedge in that campaign.”
Parker said that Perry used a quote of something she said while controller. She said it was not out of context and might have even been impolitic to say at the time. But she described her relationship with White as a good working relationship despite a disagreement on a particular issue at one time during their three terms in office together.
Parker maintains a high popularity rating in Houston and said she thinks her city is getting used to their new high-profile mayor. Among the reasons, she said, is that she is the only mayor of a major American city who hasn’t had to lay off any workers.
Parker did admit just one area where Dallas beats Houston — light rail. However, she said the two cities are working together to get a high-speed rail link built between them.
In January, Parker and Hubbard will celebrate their 20th anniversary.
Parker said one thing Hubbard did not share with her was the parenting gene. It took several years before she convinced Hubbard they should be parents.
They have raised three children together. Their foster son was an openly gay teen who they took in at age 16. Later, they adopted their two daughters at ages 12 and 7. Their younger daughter is 15 now and still at home. Her son, who is now 34, rode in the car in the parade with her.
Houston’s mayors serve two-year terms so Parker will be running for re-election next year.