For first time in 14 years, no Dallas City Council district will be represented by a gay person
June 16 will not go down as a good day for the local LGBT community.
All four openly gay candidates in the Metroplex were defeated in municipal election runoffs.
And for the first time in 14 years, the LGBT community will not have a representative at Dallas’ horseshoe after inauguration day, June 25.
“Our GLBT community has just lost some massive ground,” said Joseph Hernandez, who was defeated by Dave Neumann in the race for Dallas City Council District 3. “We’re in trouble, and we do not have a sufficient number of GLBT-friendly people at the horseshoe right now to be able to ensure us any type of representation. It’s a large disappointment for the GLBT community, and we’ve certainly got our work cut out for us over the next few years.”
Hernandez was vying to replace Ed Oakley, a six-year councilman who gave up the District 3 seat to make an unsuccessful bid for mayor.
Since Craig McDaniel became the first openly gay person elected to the council in 1993, the LGBT community continuously has had a representative.
The community also will be losing a strong straight ally in Mayor Laura Miller, who will be replaced by Tom Leppert.
Leppert’s support for the LGBT community has been called into ques-
tion by advocates. He declined to participate in a pre-election survey and interview to seek an endorsement from the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, and he repeatedly has refused to identify himself as “gay-friendly.”
DGLA President Pete Webb said both Miller and her predecessor, Ron Kirk, were more supportive than Leppert appears.
“It’s the first time in 12 years that we haven’t had a mayor who fully embraces the LGBT community,” Webb said. “Ron Kirk was a friend, but Laura Miller really helped take it up a notch.”
Only one of the five councilmembers-elect who won runoffs June 16, including Leppert, responded to DGLA’s request for the survey and interview.
That was Neumann, who will represent the heavily gay District 3. Leppert, Vonciel Jones Hill, Carolyn Davis and Tennell Atkins declined to participate.
But even Neumann’s support is suspect.
Hernandez accused Neumann of gay-baiting during their race, and Neumann has made campaign contributions to the likes of U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who is widely seen as anti-gay.
Still, the unanimous opinion is it’s unlikely the council would move to repeal things like an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation or domestic partner benefits for city employees.
McDaniel, who served from s1993 to 1997, said he feels the LGBT community has developed a sufficient number of allies at City Hall to prevent that.
“I guess it’s been a good run,” McDaniel said. “From a sentimental standpoint, I guess it’s a little sad that we don’t have somebody there.”
That absence of an LGBT councilperson will be due in part to the fact that the community is not as concentrated in specific districts as blacks or Hispanics, McDaniel said.
But he added the council already has addressed most, if not all, LGBT issues within its purview.
“I don’t really think, other than in symbolic terms, that we’re in danger of losing any of the gains we’ve made or missing out on any opportunity,” he said. “The environment over the last 14 years has changed so much that I don’t know that it’s such a dangerous thing. It’s not such a scary thing to think that we’re not going to have a gay or lesbian person on the council guarding our interest.”
McDaniel said one result of all the progress has been decreased support for candidates based on sexual orientation.
“I think it’s just not as compelling a proposition anymore to say that I’m gay and we need to get somebody down there who understands our community to take care of this mess we have,” he said. “There isn’t so much of a mess anymore.”
Veletta Forsythe Lill, who succeeded McDaniel and served until 2005, was a very strong straight ally for the local LGBT community. But Lill, who worked alongside openly gay councilmembers such as John Loza and Oakley, said she doesn’t think that’s the same as having an LGBT representative.
“I can walk a lot of miles in those shoes, but it’s still not the same,” said Lill. “Certainly I have been very close to the LGBT community for many years, but if one lives something every day, their perspective is heightened.”
Lill agreed it’s unlikely the mayor or council would launch an attack on the LGBT community.
But she said it’s also important for elected officials to attend events such as Dallas’ gay Pride parade. Lill also said she hopes those at the horseshoe will continue to be inclusive when it comes to appointments to boards and commissions.
“That’s really where much of the governance takes place,” she said.
Above all, Lill said she believes it’s critical for the LGBT community to try to educate Leppert and the new councilmembers particularly in light of the damage caused by anti-gay tactics affecting the mayor’s race.
“I think what’s important for all of us now is to reach out to the new leaders, to ensure that we close the wound quickly,” she said. “There is a sense that there is a wound, and I think we need to quickly heal that wound.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 22, 2007.