Observers say that despite recent struggles, LGBT community will continue to advance in political arena
Gay Dallas County Precinct 5 Constable Mike Dupree resigns amid allegations that he sexually harassed young male employees in his office.
Texas Stonewall Democrats President Shannon Bailey – who leads the largest LGBT political group in the state is arrested on a charge of public lewdness.
Lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and gay County Judge Jim Foster become the subject of widespread criticism in the media related to their job performances.
Gay District 3 City Councilman Ed Oakley loses a runoff for Dallas mayor after being targeted by anti-gay robocalls and e-mails during the campaign. And Oakley’s defeat, along with that of District 3 City Council candidate Joseph Hernandez, leaves Dallas’ horseshoe gay-free for the first time in 14 years.
It all adds up to a difficult few months at least politically for the local LGBT community, which had been riding high following the November 2006 elections. That’s when Foster and District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons joined Valdez, Dupree and Oakley in a growing contingent of openly gay officials that has earned Dallas national media attention.
Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, called it “a summer in which we suffered a hurricane of bad news.”
Darlene Ewing, chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, said she believes the scandal involving Dupree was most damaging.
After months of controversy, an independent report completed for the county by an outside investigator became public in June. According to testimony in the report, Dupree, who was first elected constable in 2001, had made a habit of inviting young Hispanic employees on dates, trips and cruises; taking them to the basement and making advances; touching them inappropriately; making sexually explicit comments; and demoting or reassigning them when they rebuffed his requests.
In the wake of the report, Dupree resigned and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of abuse of public office.
“Mike’s situation played into the classic stereotype of a gay man,” Ewing said. “He’s hitting on other guys, he’s hitting on young boys, and he’s just nothing but a predator. It fed into that classic stereotype of false assumptions about gay men.”
Some have made the same argument about the allegations against Bailey, who was arrested June 14 after two Dallas Police Department vice unit officers observed him performing oral sex on another suspect in White Rock Lake Park, according to reports.
Despite a request from the executive board of Texas Stonewall Democrats, Bailey has refused to resign his post. President of TSD since 2004, Bailey also is a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee.
The charge against Bailey, which is pending, has had the effect of pitting his supporters within TSD against those who want him to step down. But Ewing said she does not think it’s had a significant impact outside the organization.
“I don’t think he has hurt us in terms of getting people re-elected,” Ewing said. “I think it’s been an internal problem, but not an external problem.”
While it has not directly involved their sexual orientations, Valdez and Foster also have gotten their share of bad press.
Valdez, a Democrat who became the county’s first lesbian sheriff in 2004, has been blamed for failed inspections and other ongoing issues at the jail. And the Dallas County Republican Party has made the sheriff’s race its No. 1 priority in 2008, when Valdez will be seeking re-election.
Pat Cotton, a longtime local GOP political consultant, said she thinks Valdez’s performance has had a bigger negative impact on the LGBT community than either Dupree or Bailey.
“I don’t think Shannon has become much of an issue. Most people don’t know anything about him,” Cotton said.
“[Dupree’s] story was much lower-keyed than the sheriff’s department and the jail situation and all the problems that are there,” Cotton added. “Lupe’s a nice person, and I know her personally, but it was just the wrong job for her. She wasn’t prepared for it and clearly was overwhelmed.”
Valdez, whose election was a precursor to the Democratic sweep of 2006, characterized the attacks as partisan politics.
“The comment has been, “‘She’s the one who started it, we’ve got to bring her down to prove it’s not happening,'” Valdez told the Voice recently, referring to Republicans’ reaction to recent Democratic gains locally. “I’m the target, and what happens when you’re the target? They will find anything and everything. When people are desperate, they will do anything to get back to where they were, and I think desperate measures will come out. We just have to be ready to meet the challenge.”
Ewing noted that Valdez inherited many of the problems at the jail from previous administrations.
“The jail has monumental problems, but Lupe has done s a lot to address the issues,” Ewing said. “They are so much further along then they were three years ago when she took office.”
Foster, meanwhile, was caught in the crossfire of the Dupree scandal when he failed to show up for a vote on whether to increase the constable’s surety bond a deposit officials are required to post when they take office. Because of Foster’s absence, the Commissioners’ Court did not have a quorum.
A longtime friend of Dupree’s, Foster was accused of trying to protect the constable. But Foster maintained he was unable to attend the meeting due to illness.
Foster also has been the subject of stories in the Dallas Observer suggesting his victory in 2006 was a fluke and that he is not qualified for the position. But he since has received praise from both the Observer and The Dallas Morning News for his efforts to combat air pollution.
Ewing said she believes the political newcomer, will prove naysayers wrong by the time his term expires in 2010.
“Clearly he had a learning curve, as would anybody who comes in cold to that situation,” she said. “I think people are going to be surprised because he really has tried to learn the issues.”
Despite struggles, observers say the LGBT community remains stronger than ever politically.
Cotton said one of the keys to moving forward will be to put forward the best possible candidates and avoid voting for people because they’re gay.
“If you’re incompetent it reflects badly on everybody in your group,” Cotton said. “It doesn’t mean that gay people can’t ever get elected again, but I think they are going to have to be competent and show that they can do the job, because the ones that are in office and doing poorly will just kind of leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouths.”
Ewing said it is also critical for gay candidates, politicians and leaders to recognize that they are under a microscope and exercise as much discretion as possible in their personal lives.
“They [voters] don’t care if you’re gay, but if you show up with some little boy toy, that could be a problem, and it’s unfair, but that’s the reality. The American people just aren’t all the way there yet,” Ewing said. “That’s the sacrifice they have to make to plow some ground for the future, and then one day nobody will care who you bring to the chamber of commerce dinner.”
In any case, Garcia and other activists aren’t hanging their heads. Among other things, he noted the community’s many straight allies in office.
“It’s a setback, and we’ve got to really debate what went down this summer, but in the end it’s going to be a learning experience, and we’ve got to move forward,” Garcia said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2007