County judge candidate, who’s billed himself as a longtime LGBT ally, twice voted against community when he was Dallas city councilmember in 1992
Larry Duncan says he made "a serious mistake" when he twice voted against the LGBT community on major issues as a Dallas city councilmember in 1992.
Duncan, who faces Clay Jenkins in the Democratic runoff for Dallas County judge April 13, has billed himself as a longtime LGBT ally during the campaign, and he received the endorsement of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.
But records indicate that in January 1992, Duncan voted against a proposal to overturn the city’s ban on hiring gay and lesbian police officers. The proposal to overturn the ban, introduced by gay Councilman Chris Luna, failed by a vote of 10-5.
A month later, after a state district judge struck down the city’s ban on gay officers, Duncan joined a 9-4 council majority in voting to appeal the decision, at an estimated cost of $20,000. The city eventually lost the case.
"I made a serious mistake," Duncan said this week when asked about the two votes. "There’s no excuse for it. I learned from it."
Duncan said he based the two votes on the fact that sodomy was prohibited by state statute at the time, and police officers are expected to follow the law. He said he realized the mistake over the course of the next few months.
"What’s right trumps the law, and I learned that lesson at that point and have stuck with it ever since," he said.
In 1995, Duncan voted in favor of an ordinance that protects city employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Duncan said he now backs full equality for LGBT people, including same-sex marriage, and deserves the Stonewall endorsement.
"I feel I have earned their support over the years, and have done everything in my power, above and beyond the call, to rectify that mistake," Duncan said. "I don’t make excuses, I make improvements, and I’ve had an unblemished record since. I have proven [my support] for over 15 years, and I can only ask for understanding and forgiveness for an error made in 1992."
In his interview for the Stonewall endorsement, Duncan noted that when he served as president of the Dallas Homeowners League in the 1980s, the group backed the first openly gay candidate for City Council, Bill Nelson. "I’ve been there all along when it’s tough," Duncan told the Voice last week.
But openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, who supports Jenkins and has called for Duncan to drop out of the runoff, said the two votes from 1992 cast doubt on Duncan’s claim.
Fitzsimmons said the Homeowners League backed Nelson based on his support for the group’s issues.
Fitzsimmons, who called Duncan’s record on gay rights "a mixed bag," said this week he believes Stonewall should reconsider its endorsement in the county judge race based on the 1992 votes.
"Obviously Stonewall Democrats did not do their research," Fitzsimmons said. "You can’t claim that this guy is a lifelong GLBT ally and supporter, when in fact the public record says something different."
Stonewall Democrats President Erin Moore said she hadn’t been aware of the two votes by Duncan in 1992. But she said she doesn’t think the votes are grounds to question Duncan’s support for the LGBT community or reconsider the group’s endorsement.
"My concern is not so much how people voted 18 years ago, but how they’re voting now," Moore said.
"He’s a straight ally, a very strong straight ally, who’s obviously gone through a growth process. I liken it to any gay person coming out. You learn about things as you go. That was a long time ago," Moore said.
Jenkins, who fell just short of the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff in the March 2 primary, declined to comment on Duncan’s 1992 votes.
"I’m committed to running a completely positive campaign," Jenkins said. "I’m also committed to protecting the rights of all of our citizens."
Jenkins, a civil rights attorney, said he supports adding LGBT job protections for county employees.
Luna, who served on the City Council with Duncan for six years, is backing Jenkins. Luna described Duncan’s support for the LGBT community during that period as "shaky."
"Clearly if he said, ‘I was a fighter and a leader for the LGBT community on the council,’ I would say that’s not accurate," Luna said.
"I would say that it’s fair to describe those as two major votes on gay rights in Dallas," Luna said of the 1992 decisions. "I do think that those who voted for or against those items were voting for or against the community."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 12, 2010.