Perry Homes owner was top donor in effort to pass anti-gay-marriage amendment in Texas, records show
The bitter battle fought in 2005 trying to prevent the passage of Proposition 2 is over, but a nagging reminder of it remains in the form of real estate that is for sale in Oak Lawn and several other Dallas County neighborhoods.
Robert J. Perry, founder of Houston-based Perry Homes, contributed $165,000 in 2005 to help get the Texas ban on same-sex marriage passed, according to Texas Ethics Commission records. The 73-year-old multi-millionaire was the largest single donor to the campaign, contributing 37 percent of the $451, 243 raised to promote Proposition 2.
Perry’s partners in the effort included the conservative religious group Focus on the Family, which contributed $51,188, and a San Antonio physician, Dr. James Leininger, who contributed $100,000.
Perry Homes’ marketing of homes in LGBT neighborhoods across the state has angered some gay real estate agents and residents who complain that the purchase of homes from Perry’s business helps enrich a businessman who has funded a war chest against the gay community.
“He is just covering Oak Lawn with his product good or bad and the community is contributing to his philanthropy by buying his property,” said Jack Evans, a real estate agent and a longtime resident of Dallas. “He is not our friend.”
Perry Homes, which has been building homes in Texas for 35 years, is now marketing four complexes of town homes in and near Oak Lawn. They are The Reserve at Reagan, Wycliff Place, The Village at Henderson and City View at Farmer’s Market.
Evans said he will no longer sell Perry Homes properties, but he did before he learned about Perry’s support of conservative causes.
“Why feed the enemy?” Evans said. “The more profit he makes from the community, the more he’s going to try his best to bury it.”
The homebuilder, whose product is now marketed in Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, had quietly contributed millions to the Republican Party for years and attracted little attention. State records show that Perry and his wife gave $11 million to state candidates and political committees since 2000.
It was not until Perry contributed $8 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign attacking the Vietnam War record of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, that the homebuilder’s conservative agenda attracted national attention.
“I hadn’t heard about it before that came out,” Evans said. “He’s been building for decades.”
Gay real estate broker Mark Shekter said he would not buy or sell Perry homes either, but he knows people who have.
“I may have sold one about five years ago before I ever knew about it,” Shekter said. “I’m wondering if a lot of people who know about it don’t care as long as they get a good deal.”
Lesbian real estate agent Kathy Hewitt said she is one who would continue selling Perry Homes, despite the political contributions of the company’s founder.
“My bottom line is that I like the product they build,” Hewitt said. “I think they have done wonders to improve in-town living.
“There are a lot of wonderful people who work for Perry Homes who are terrific people who will get the commissions, who will get their paychecks and build a good product. So I’m not going to boycott a Perry Home.”
Hewitt said she does not mingle her personal political philosophy with her real estate work.
“I would not tell a buyer, “‘Oh, by the way do you know if you buy this home you are going to be supporting Mr. Perry and his far right endeavors?'” Hewitt said. “I would never say such a thing.”
Evans said he also would not try to influence someone against buying a Perry Homes product.
“I guess it’s an individual matter,” Evans said.
Hewitt said many LGBT residents in Dallas have purchased from Perry Homes.
Anthony Holm, an Austin-based spokesman for Perry, defended the homebuilder. He contended that Perry would not be building homes in LGBT neighborhoods if he were homophobic.
“In no way, shape or form is Mr. Perry anti-gay,” Holm said. “If he were, he wouldn’t be building homes in these areas.”
Holm said Perry Homes employs many gay and lesbian employees, and Perry appreciates them.
“Mr. Perry really appreciates people and values people,” Holm said. “As an individual he is unbelievably respectful of all people.”
Holm said Perry founded orphanages in Mexico and San Salvador, and he gave $1 million to a Houston YMCA. Perry is the single largest donor to the Mexican-American studies program at the University of Houston, he added.
“Although Mr. Perry is often known as a very significant political donor, he is most aptly described as a charitable donor. “His charitable concerns far outweigh his political ones.”
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said he believes it is important for LGBT people to be informed about business people and their political activities. It is important to support businesses that are progressive in their politics and policies, he said.
“Obviously, it is each person’s individual conscience as to whether they would give money to Bob Perry when they buy their house,” Scott said. “We all need to evaluate when we have knowledge that our money will eventually end up in an effort to restrict our rights or to discriminate against the LGBT community. We have to be aware and cognizant of it all times.”
Evans said Holm’s assurances about Perry’s character had failed to impress him, but he is willing to give Perry a chance to prove him wrong. He challenged Perry to demonstrate his appreciation of the gay community and his respect for it.
“Can we verify that?” Evans said. “Can you see if he will give a contribution to one of our worthy causes?”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, January 12, 2006.