Bill White says LGBT vote ‘absolutely critical’

Democratic challenger says he expects ‘a very close election’ as he works to unseat incumbent Perry

John Wright  | Dallas Voice wright@dallasvoice.com

OPPOSITE SIDES  |  Democrat Bill White, above, has courted LGBT votes in his bid for Texas governor, including making appearances at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings (above). Republican Gov. Rick Perry (below) has courted anti-gay conservatives, suggesting that same-sex marriage hurts job growth.
OPPOSITE SIDES | Democrat Bill White, above, has courted LGBT votes in his bid for Texas governor, including making appearances at the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meetings (above). Republican Gov. Rick Perry (below) has courted anti-gay conservatives, suggesting that same-sex marriage hurts job growth.

A strong turnout from LGBT voters is “absolutely critical” to his chances of unseating Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Democrat Bill White told Dallas Voice this week.

In an exclusive interview, White said he expects “a very close election” and that gay voters in Texas shouldn’t stay away from the polls because they may be frustrated with a perceived lack of progress on LGBT issues in Washington.

White declined a request for a phone interview but agreed to answer questions via e-mail.

“It’s absolutely critical. This will be a very close election,” White said when asked about the importance of the gay vote. “I’m proud of my support in the community and so grateful to all the volunteers who have been raising funds, making phone calls, and knocking on doors to spread the word about the choice we have for the future of our state. This is no time to stay home. Whatever is going on nationally, we have major issues facing our state and need a leader to take them on.”

White, the former Houston mayor, is widely considered a strong LGBT ally, and he appeared in Dallas’ gay Pride parade in September.

White had a gay brother who died several years ago and has said he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was championed by Perry.

However, White hasn’t made LGBT issues a major part of his gubernatorial campaign, presumably in part because they might be used by Perry to energize right-wing voters.

Some Democrats seeking statewide office, including Barbara Ann Radnofsky and Hank Gilbert, have published policy statements in support of LGBT equality on their websites.

“Actions speak louder than words, and I have a track record of inclusive leadership,” White said in response to a question about why he hasn’t focused on LGBT issues. “That’s why I’ve received a rare endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign. Rick Perry wants to divide Texans — it’s what we’ve seen from him for decades. He’d rather divide for his personal political purposes than bring people together to get things done. Major corporations in our state, like Shell Oil for example, know that being inclusive makes them more competitive. But Perry recently made some comment saying that Texas’ job growth was somehow tied to the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. What? It just shows you how clueless a professional politician is.”

White was referring to Perry’s comment during a campaign stop in Temple in August, when the incumbent said: “There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas. We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

Dallas Voice also asked White whether, as governor, he would support or sign bullying legislation that provides specific protections for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas public schools.

Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from the Houston suburbs, committed suicide in September after his parents say he was bullied relentlessly at school. Asher’s suicide was one of several across the country in recent months by teens who were gay or perceived to be gay.

“Asher Brown’s suicide is a heartbreaking tragedy,” White responded. “I’ll support policies that prohibit school and workplace discrimination and harassment of any kind, and I’ll work hard to build an atmosphere of respect in Texas.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas