GLBT leaders praise Miller for supporting gay concerns, participating in local gay events
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller announced last week she would not seek re-election in 2007, leaving many GLBT residents stunned and wondering how along it might be before they again see such a gay-friendly politician in charge at City Hall.
A day after her announcement, Miller said in a telephone interview that she had accomplished most of her political goals and she wanted to spend more time with her family. She is married to former State Rep. Steve Wolens, who is a lawyer. They have three children.
“I need to take a break, get off the treadmill and be with my family,” Miller said. “I’m eager to do that.”
Miller said the eight years she has spent in politics first as a City Council member, then mayor has interrupted her family life. In just a few years, all of her children will be attending college, and more of her time should be devoted to family activities before they leave home, she said.
“My family needs that,” said Miller, who denied speculation that she has suffered a recurrence of cancer. “My kids only know me in politics.”
Miller, a former journalist, said she would not seek election to any other office, nor would she return to journalism.
“I’ve done my thing,” Miller said. “I’m not a political animal. This is not my career.”
Although many of Miller’s gay supporters said they understood her decision to abandon politics, they lamented it.
Lesbian activist Sally O’Connor, who helped Miller attract gay votes in two successful campaigns, said the news had stunned her.
“I was shocked and saddened,” said O’Connor, a public relations specialist who has served on the board of several local GLBT groups. “She’s the real thing.”
Miller was the first mayor to accept an invitation to ride in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, and she has ridden in the September parade with her husband and children every year since her election in 2002. She has also attended every Dallas-Fort Worth Black Tie Dinner for the past four years.
She was the first candidate for mayor to publicly acknowledge GLBT residents in a campaign speech. Every other candidate for mayor soon followed her lead and promised to represent the interests of the gay community.
One of Miller’s first accomplishments after taking office was to fulfill her campaign promise to lead the City Council in passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that addressed sexual orientation and gender identity.
“That sat around and people discussed it for years and years,” O’Connor said.
“It wasn’t until Laura said, “‘this is ridiculous, of course I’ll push it, and it’ll be one of the main things I do.’ After that, others jumped in, and it started to happen.”
Gay City Council member Ed Oakley, who sometimes is at odds with Miller on political issues, acknowledged her contributions to the city’s GLBT residents.
“I would say that Laura has been one of the largest assets for our community since she became mayor,” said Oakley, who noted the announcement also caught him off guard. “If there was an award given by the gay community for public service, she would be the one to get it.”
Oakley said Miller’s support of the anti-discrimination ordinance was pivotal in getting it passed quickly.
“She’s been very supportive of our community,” Oakley said. “She’s been a great help to it.”
Roger Wedell, who as vice-president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance worked with City Council members and other activists to get the anti-discrimination ordinance amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity, said Miller’s support put the effort on a track to success. The group had met for months prior to Miller’s election, but it wasn’t until after she was elected that the offices of the City Manager and the City Attorney embraced the project, he said.
“The week after Laura was inaugurated we moved those meetings to the mayor’s conference room,” Wedell said. “It was the difference between night and day in the support that came from city hall staff.”
O’Connor said Miller’s support of GLBT community pleased her most because she knew it was from the heart, rather than a political gesture.
“The thing that I admired most about Laura was that she never felt beholden to anyone, which is kind of rarity in politics,” O’Connor said. “Because she doesn’t believe she owes anyone, she makes her decisions based on what she believes is right. A perfect example is the ordinance.”
Wedell said of all the announced viable candidates for mayor, none have demonstrated they would support GLBT issues the way Miller has.
“None of them rise to the level of public advocacy that Laura Miller has been,” Wedell said. “It doesn’t mean they won’t be, but they don’t have the history.”
Miller, who recently sent a letter to Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials urging them to add domestic partnership benefits to the agency’s employee benefits package, said she hopes the city’s next mayor will also reach out to and support the gay community.
And, she said, the next mayor and other council members should continue participating in GLBT events.
“That’s been very important to me,” Miller said. “Since I’ve been mayor, I’ve never missed a parade or the Black Tie. I think they are cherished events in our city.”
Miller said she was uncertain how long it would be before she takes on another project. She is considering writing a novel, which she notes is every writer’s dream.
“I never sit still for long,” Miller said. “We’ll see what happens.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 14, 2006.