With Mayor Rawlings, are we celebrating Pride or prejudice?

Posted on 14 Sep 2012 at 1:00pm

Daniel CatesDuring her time as Dallas mayor, Laura Miller made a huge statement by becoming the first mayor to ride in the  city’s annual LGBT Pride parade.

To many of us in the LGBT community, this was wonderful, a real sign that progress was being made and we were finally becoming a recognized part of the fabric of this city. Miller’s Pride appearances gave us Pride.

Her bold statement and the positive response must have made quite an impression, too, as our next mayor, Tom Leppert, also  opted to acknowledge the North Texas LGBT crowd by  marching in the parade. I remember him tossing beads, smiling and having a gay old time. Our love of Leppert would be short-lived, however, with him deciding to run as a conservative Republican for Senate, completely tossing our community “under the Pride float,” if you will.

In 2012, riding in Pride parades has really become “Mayor Chic.” It is no surprise that this year, Mayor Mike Rawlings will be joining us for his second appearance. However, Rawlings’ appearance this year has left many LGBT Dallasites scratching their heads.

I am sure many of you will remember all of the drama earlier this year between the Dallas LGBT community and Mayor Mike.

After running a campaign for mayor that promised inclusion of the LGBT community and campaigning hard for our votes and money, Rawlings would surprise and, quite frankly, “piss off” many of us when he would refuse to sign a pledge  with mayors  from across the country calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage. The pledge, “Mayors for the Freedom to Marry,” would have  been a statement from our mayor that he believes all families deserve dignity and respect under the law. Many of us felt betrayed.

Over the next weeks Mayor Rawlings would dig in his heels over the issue, sparking a national media frenzy, protests, petitions, letter writing campaigns — his position was clearly about as popular as a hot beer —  and causing him to cancel meetings  and appearances, tap dance around his support for our community and make promises of possibly, maybe working on “other,” unspecified issues for us.

Since then, things have cooled down between the mayor and the LGBT community. He has made several attempts to win our favor again, using lots of pretty words in a pre-recorded address at a Pride Reception at City Hall, and meeting with leadership from various groups and such.  Riding in the Pride parade is really the logical next step in saying “please like me” to our community. But, seeing Rawlings’ smiling face will not fill many of us with Pride this year.

The truth is, we simply do not know where we stand with Mike Rawlings. This is a man who “believes” the protection of all Dallasites is a priority, yet when given the opportunity to affirm that support  of our community, refuses to do so. This is a man who has smiles and waves at Pride receptions, yet when pressed about specific items he is willing to champion for our community, remains elusive  and non- committal. Yes, this is a man who maintains that he is a proponent  of equality, yet his only recent campaign contributions have been to Tom Leppert ($1,000) and Mitt Romney ($2,500). You heard that right: Mike Rawlings, “believer“ in equal rights, wants Mitt Romney, a man who would roll back almost every civil rights gain the LGBT community has made, to be president of the United States.

Weren’t we just upset with Chick-Fil-A for making donations to bigots? Where is their Pride float?

With so much inconsistency, many of us who work for social justice have to ask, “Is Mayor Rawlings a friend or foe?”

What message is his Pride appearance really sending? Pretty words at Pride receptions are one thing and are nice to hear, but donations to anti- LGBT candidates are quite another. Mike Rawlings is looking less and less like a proponent of equality and more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Personally I believe that Pride celebrations should be inclusive and so I welcome Mayor Rawlings, but I take his symbolic show of support with the tiniest grain of salt. Mike’s tossing beads and shaking his money maker may look like progress to many who remember when no city official would be caught dead riding in a “gay” parade. In some ways, this is true, but under his shiny, LGBT-friendly exterior his actions tell us we may have the ilk of another Tom Leppert on our hands.

Mayor Rawlings and politicians across this country who have realized the importance of LGBT support in their political careers would do well to also note that they are not courting the LGBT community of even four years ago. Today’s LGBT community is paying attention and elected officials will no longer be able to coast by on a few smiles and handshakes while ignoring or sidestepping the issues important to us. Mike Rawlings’ claims of love and support for our community  backed up by actual support  for candidates who wish to dial back the clock on civil rights has many  of us raising an eyebrow. This year, as the mayor’s float meanders down Cedar Springs, will we be celebrating Pride or prejudice?

Daniel Cates is North Texas regional coordinator for the direct action group GetEQUAL. He can be reached at daniel@getequaltx.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2012.

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