Houston Voters rejected anti-gay bigotry and were more concerned with qualifications and experience
In our last mayoral election, I had great hopes that Dallas would become the first top 10 city to elect an openly gay mayor.
Well, unless Tom Leppert came out and the media ignored it, our civic rival, Houston, just won that contest.
Annise Parker handily won a runoff against former Houston City Attorney Gene Locke with 53.5 percent of the vote, making her the first openly lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city.
Parker served as the controller for Houston prior to her election — and on the City Council before that — and has been open about her sexual orientation throughout her political career. She celebrated the victory with her partner Kathy Hubbard.
Leading up to the election, Parker faced a nasty anti-gay campaign driven by conservative activists who used photos of Annise and Kathy in an attempt to shock voters.
The only problem was, it didn’t work. A Houston Chronicle/Zogby poll showed that only 18 percent of Houston voters cared about her sexual orientation. What they did care about was her experience.
For once, the right-wing hate machine found an unreceptive audience.
Voters wanted someone with high ethical standards and experience; Parker has 12 years in public life, and her ability to do the job was never an issue. Apparently that is what matters.
I find that comforting, at least for Houston, and possibly for the rest of our state as well. The voters might just be realizing that real issues, experience, ability and ethics are what count in public office, not the window dressing often used by politicians to get voters to "identify" with them.
If Houstonians are like me, they care less about identifying with their officials and more about keeping the city running. I call it "enlightened self-interest," and it’s a factor that has been missing for some time in American politics — especially in this state.
The policy wonks and political gurus will tell me I am crazy. The will say that Houston was a fluke and that a good, strong campaign that played to people’s fears and emotions could have defeated Parker.
That may be. But it might just be that the newer generation of Texans, those who grew up with the images of Will & Grace and Ellen, have dropped the old prejudices by the roadside. Or it may be that voters have considered the dreaded "gay agenda" and found it to be lacking in any basis of truth.
I mean, even though gay marriage continues to send shivers through some people, in reality the states that have it haven’t changed much.
Family life in Massachusetts looks pretty much like it did prior to gay marriage, except now there are a few more same-sex couple showing up at PTA meetings.
But aside from that problematic area, LGBT rights, seems to be an issue that most younger Americans understand and accept.
I suspect that may be part of the reason Parker’s sexual orientation was not as big an issue as it could have been.
Houston and its suburbs have a high population of younger residents.
According to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, 38.8 percent of Houstonians are between the ages of 20 and 44. I would wager that this demographic played a big role in Parker’s victory and that is a good thing.
Maybe this voter block is not as easily moved by the boogieman of the gay agenda? Maybe these younger people actually have some ability to override their knee-jerk reactions with real, rational thinking?
Either way, Parker’s victory moves the real gay agenda a big step forward, and that’s just fine by me.
Personally, my gay agenda is hardly the stuff of nightmares. It goes something like this:
• Gain equal rights
• Check my email and phone messages
• Take out the garbage
• Play with our cats
• Have a nice dinner with my partner
• Watch "Desperate Housewives"
Anything else is nobody’s business but mine!
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.