Burns began by showing photographs and names; suicide after suicide of young teenage boys who are dead because of bullying about their perceived homosexuality.
His voice thick with emotion, Burns told their stories:
Asher Brown, a 13-year-old Cypress, Texas boy who shot himself.
Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old Minnesota boy who hung himself.
Seth Walsh, 13, whose mother found him hanging by a rope from a tree at their California home. Doctors couldn’t save him.
And then, Council member Burns talked about what happened to him when he was 13… years before he came out as a gay man.
“I was cornered after school by some older kids who roughed me up. They said that I was a fag, and that I should die and go to Hell where I belonged,” Burns said, adding that he had never told anyone before that moment that he had considered taking his own life.
Business Week ran a story this week about Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
She told the magazine that when she first started running for office, it was as if “lesbian” was her last name.
When Craig McDaniel sat on the Dallas city council, he used to jokingly refer to himself as Craig McDaniel, F.O.G. Those initials, which stood for First Openly Gay, came from every reference to him by the Dallas Morning News, even when the story was about something completely unrelated. If the story was about the opening of the State Fair, it would have read, “Mayor Ron Kirk, council member Chris Luna and First Openly Gay Councilman Craig McDaniel were at the State Fair today….”
Parker’s office forwarded me a link to the story from Business Week. After rereading my own story about Parker from last week, I noticed I used the word “lesbian” 10 times. Once was referring to Christine Quinn, who heads the New York City Council, so that doesn’t count; and once referred to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, so neither does that one. The others were mostly quoting her, though. And I never called her “Annise Parker, Lesbian.”
But during our conversation, I did ask about some of the issues she’s passionate about — like fixing the flooding problems in South Houston and other infrastructure problems. And we talked about her trade mission to China.
I think I was clearer about why she actually won — most people in Houston got past the whole lesbian thing and voted for the person they thought would do the best job. Her opponent in the runoff was a good guy who would have made a decent mayor but she had a lot more experience than anyone else running and people just like her. Her approval rating has soared since the election.
I’m surprised Business Week missed one important business piece of the story — she’s the only big city mayor who hasn’t had to lay anyone off, mostly because she’s been good at managing the budget.
She’s advanced the image of gays and lesbians as being hard-working average Americans. In my talk with her she said her family and friends were surprised when she ended up running for public office because she was more of a nerdy policy wonk.
She told Business Week, “I’m a middle-aged soccer mom and I appear in public with my spouse of 20 years and my kids. It’s hard to make me scary.”
But the line I really love is, “I take a lot of credit for raising Houston’s coolness factor.”
She’s right. We love Houston’s mayor, but Dallas has always been much cooler.
Judicial candidates John Loza, Tonya Parker among 4 LGBTs running in local races in 2010
By John Wright | News Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
IN THE RUNNING | Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons, clockwise from top left, County Judge Jim Foster, attorney Tonya Parker and former Councilman John Loza are LGBT candidates who plan to run in Dallas County elections in 2010. The filing period ends Jan. 4.
Dallas County has had its share of openly gay elected officials, from Sheriff Lupe Valdez to District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons to County Judge Jim Foster.
But while Foster, who chairs the Commissioners Court, is called a “judge,” he’s not a member of the judiciary, to which the county’s voters have never elected an out LGBT person.
Two Democrats running in 2010 — John Loza and Tonya Parker — are hoping to change that.
“This is the first election cycle that I can remember where we’ve had openly gay candidates for the judiciary,” said Loza, a former Dallas City Councilman who’s been involved in local LGBT politics for decades. “It’s probably long overdue, to be honest with you.”
Dallas County’s Jerry Birdwell became the first openly gay judge in Texas when he was appointed by Gov. Ann Richards in 1992. But after coming under attack for his sexual orientation by the local Republican Party, Birdwell, a Democrat, lost his bid for re-election later that year.
Also in the November 1992 election, Democrat Barbara Rosenberg defeated anti-gay Republican Judge Jack Hampton.
But Rosenberg, who’s a lesbian, wasn’t out at the time and didn’t run as an openly LGBT candidate.
Loza, who’s been practicing criminal law in Dallas for the last 20 years, is running for the County Criminal Court No. 5 seat. Incumbent Tom Fuller is retiring. Loza said he expects to face three other Democrats in the March primary, meaning a runoff is likely. In addition to groups like Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, he said he’ll seek an endorsement from the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which provides financial backing to LGBT candidates nationwide.
Parker, who’s running for the 116th Civil District Court seat, declined to be interviewed for this story. Incumbent Bruce Priddy isn’t expected to seek re-election, and Parker appears to be the favorite for the Democratic nomination.
If she wins in November, Parker would become the first LGBT African-American elected official in Dallas County.
Loza and Parker are among four known local LGBT candidates in 2010.
They join fellow Democrats Fitzsimmons and Foster, who are each seeking a second four-year term.
While Foster is vulnerable and faces two strong challengers in the primary, Fitzsimmons is extremely popular and said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected.
“I think pretty much everybody knows that the District Clerk’s Office is probably the best-run office in Dallas County government,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think this county is a Democratic County, and I think I’ve proved myself to be an outstanding county administrator, and I think the people will see that.”
Randall Terrell, political director for Equality Texas, said this week he wasn’t aware of any openly LGBT candidates who’ve filed to run in state races in 2010.
Although Texas made headlines recently for electing the nation’s first gay big-city mayor, the state remains one of 20 that lack an out legislator.
Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, said he’s hoping Annise Parker’s victory in Houston last week will inspire more qualified LGBT people to run for office.
“It gives other people permission really to think of themselves as leaders,” Dison said.
The filing period for March primaries ends Jan. 4.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.