Let’s face it, Dallas’ gay community has suffered a few setbacks over the last year politically.
First, there was the matter of gay Precinct 5 Constable Mike Dupree, who resigned after months of scandal. Then Texas Stonewall Democrats President Shannon Bailey was arrested after police said he performed a sex act in a public park.
Meanwhile, County Judge Jim Foster and Sheriff Lupe Valdez, both openly gay, faced widespread criticism in the media deservedly or not related to their job performances. And Ed Oakley lost his runoff for mayor, leaving Dallas’ horseshoe gay-free for the first time in 14 years.
All this was enough for Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, the largest LGBT political group in North Texas, to declare "a hurricane of bad news."
If that was the case, though, at least one person has managed to weather the storm openly gay Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons.
In fact, not only has he stayed above the fray, Fitzsimmons has earned his share of praise, including a "Best Of’ award from The Dallas Observer.
"I’d like to think it’s because I’m doing a good job," Fitzsimmons said recently.
Fitzsimmons, elected in the countywide Democratic sweep of 2006, points to numerous accomplishments from his first year in office.
Among other things, he said he’s significantly diversified his senior management team, updated the clerk’s policies and procedures manual for the first time since 1989, removed a year’s worth of filing backlogs in family courts and implemented a comprehensive records retention schedule.
Now, Fitzsimmons has set a goal of bringing the clerk’s office into the 21st century by making it paperless, eventually digitizing the reams of files that flood county courthouses and storage facilities.
Fitzsimmons admits it may not be the sexiest public office in town, but it’s hardly unimportant.
The district clerk has a $13 million annual budget and 275 employees, and managing the office efficiently helps keep the county’s property tax rates low.
"Every single person who lives in Dallas County is supporting this system down here," Fitzsimmons said. "This is not a little deal. This is huge."
Thus far, Fitzsimmons has been up to the task. But perhaps that shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
Before taking office, Fitzsimmons had worked for decades as a manager and administrator in the world of nonprofits. Most recently, he served as assistant director of Friends of Fair Park for 13 years.
But Fitzsimmons isn’t new to politics, either. As a college student in Austin, he said he was the youngest person ever to serve on the city’s Human Relations Committee. Now 45, Fitzsimmons managed a political campaign as early as 1982.
In 1996, Fitzsimmons and Christy Kinsler founded Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, which today has more than 300 members. At the time, Fitzsimmons said he and Kinsler were board members for Dallas’ nonpartisan Lesbian and Gay Political Caucus.
"We felt that the future of gay and lesbian politics would be more partisan-based," Fitzsimmons said. "In very short order, it just kind of took off."
When he ran for clerk, Fitzsimmons said it was a calculated decision. A math guy, he’d been crunching Dallas County election numbers for years.
"It was hard to not come to the conclusion that Democrats would be performing anywhere from 51 to 53 percent," Fitzsimmons said.
Talking with Fitzsimmons, you get the
sense that he’s always been a step ahead of the game.
Asked about the LGBT community’s recent setbacks, Fitzsimmons said there’s no reason not to be optimistic.
He said he’s confident Valdez will be re-elected this year and believes Foster’s job performance has improved. As for Dupree, Fitzsimmons criticized fellow Stonewall members for supporting the constable even when it became apparent there were problems.
Fitzsimmons called Oakley’s ability to capture 42 percent of the vote in the mayoral runoff a "huge accomplishment." He also said he doesn’t believe Oakley lost because he’s gay.
According to Fitzsimmons, electing qualified openly LGBT officials represents the new frontier for gay rights. He said the days of issue-oriented LGBT politics which focused on things like protections against discrimination are largely over. Instead, the main goal now should be winning a seat at the table.
"I would expect an explosion in that particular area," Fitzsimmons said. "That’s where the gay movement should and is beginning to focus more of its energy. If you’re gay and you’re interested in politics, I think it’s a wonderful time to get involved. 2008 should be good for us."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2008