Mayor’s misstep on marriage pledge shows how far we’ve come

Laura Miller, who became LGBT icon, opposed gay unions during 1st campaign 10 years ago

David-Webb

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

The signing of a pledge in support of same-sex marriage by some 80 mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ recent meeting in Washington, D.C, represents a powerful, almost astounding stride in the LGBT community’s march to equality.

Only one big-city mayor created a controversy by refusing to sign the pledge, and that unfortunately was Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who probably regrets the decision now.

His decision not to sign the pledge — even though he later claimed he personally supports marriage equality — set off a bone-jolting controversy in Dallas as LGBT activists reacted to the news.

Rawlings cancelled a planned appearance at a neighborhood meeting because of activists’ plans to demonstrate against him, and all of the city’s newspapers and television stations began covering the story. The Dallas Morning News, which is infamous for its conservative takes on many progressive measures, praised Rawlings for resisting pressure to sign the pledge.

As a result of Rawlings thwarting activists’ plans to confront him at the neighborhood meeting, GetEQUAL scheduled a “Sign the Pledge” rally at City Hall.

There was a time when LGBT activists would have given the mayor a pass on the marriage equality issue, but that has long since passed. In declining to sign the pledge, Rawlings used the excuse that he was practicing a policy of avoiding social issues unrelated to city government.

That excuse had previously worked for former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller when she chose not to address the issue of marriage equality. At the same time, she managed to achieve something close to sainthood in the eyes of Dallas’ LGBT community because of her support of a nondiscrimination ordinance addressing sexual orientation and gender identity passed in 2002.

When Miller first campaigned for mayor she and all of her opponents declared in a candidate’s forum that they opposed same-sex marriage, but they all declared support for the nondiscrimination ordinance. That apparently was enough at the time to gain the trust and support of LGBT activists, especially after it was learned she had a gay uncle and a lesbian stepsister she loved and supported.

Miller, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2007, later gave more support to the LGBT community’s pursuit of marriage equality by speaking out against Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that voters approved in 2005. She also began supporting marriage equality during her speeches at Dallas’ glittering Black Tie Dinner.

Today, Miller says that she “supports gay marriage 100 percent,” and she adds that “it will be legal nationwide sooner than later. Young people today don’t give it a second thought and support it fully.”

As the mother of two daughters and one son, Miller knows her stuff. She declined to comment on Rawlings’ decision not to sign the pledge, but it’s a pretty good bet that if Miller were in his shoes today she would have signed that pledge — policy or no policy.

Rawlings made a terrible error in judgment when he refused to sign the pledge along with the mayors of other big cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Boston, San Diego, Portland, Denver and the list goes on and on. What’s worse, Texas mayors from Austin, Houston and San Antonio signed the pledge.

If Rawlings had simply signed the pledge, it likely would have been reported by the Dallas media, there would have been a few stones thrown at him by conservative conscientious objectors and then it would have been forgotten. But now, it will continue to rage as a full-scale controversy for an undetermined amount of time.

At this point it seems like the best course of action for Rawlings to take would be to just sign the pledge, seeing as how he is already on record as supporting marriage equality. That action might stir up resentment among conservative constituents, but at least it would put Rawlings on the winning side of the debate.

The fact of the matter is that marriage equality will indeed one day be the law of the land, no matter how much that irks those who would prevent it if they could.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Save our history, before it’s too late

HISTORIC MOMENT | Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller poses with gay former Councilmen Ed Oakley, left, and John Loza, during previous gay Pride festivities in Lee Park. Miller was the first Dallas mayoral candidate to acknowledge the LGBT community in a speech to a mainstream audience, but bits of our history like that will be lost unless we do something now to preserve them

Dallas has one of the most vibrant LGBT communities in the U.S., but unless we do something soon, the history of this community will be lost

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

Despite its stellar, well-known rise to prominence over the past four decades, Dallas’ LGBT community might find itself hard-pressed to document its glory days in coming years.

We apparently are forgetting our history as fast as we live each new day. So many people have either died, moved away or both that the number of people who remember what happened in Dallas after the birth of the gay rights movement in June 1969 are dwindling daily.

That was illustrated recently when former city Councilman Ed Oakley, Dallas’ best-known gay politician, called the current mayoral election and the candidates’ solicitation of the LGBT vote a “watershed” moment. Actually, we had already passed that milestone in the 2002 mayoral election when all of the candidates aggressively vied for the LGBT vote.

It was in that campaign cycle that former Mayor Laura Miller took the microphone during a campaign speech before a general audience and acknowledged Dallas’ LGBT community. It was the first time for a Dallas mayoral candidate to publicly acknowledge our community’s existence before TV cameras, reporters and a mixed audience.

But now — less than a mere decade later — those enormous gains were almost lost to the collective memory of Dallas’ LGBT community.

My point is not to criticize Oakley for failing to remember what happened, but to stress the need for better documentation of our social and political history. No definitive record of the history of LGBT Dallas exists, and that makes it really difficult to know for sure what did or didn’t happen in Dallas since New York City’s Stonewall Riots kicked off the gay rights movement.

If we don’t remember where we’ve been and what we’ve done, are we prepared for where we need to go in the future?

Dallas’ LGBT community is fortunate to have a publication like the Dallas Voice that has chronicled the events of almost three decades, and the Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Research Library in the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Center that contains Johnson’s personal collection of gay magazines, newspapers and other literature dating back to World War II — before most people in the community were born.

Johnson, who is in his 80s now, has written a short history of Dallas that focuses more on events that preceded the Stonewall Riots. He also has given talks about Dallas’ LGBT history that provide a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for LGBT people struggling to live their lives in an oppressive time that most of us have never experienced.

My own research of The Dallas Morning News’ archives reveals that in the 1950s the district attorney’s office aggressively pursued gay people in their homes during private parties. People were literally arrested for same-sex dancing in those days.

We can’t afford to forget that our lives today are literally blessed in comparison to what the people before us experienced. We can’t ever let politicians forget that our lives matter, and that we will never go back to the old days of subjugation.

And don’t ever forget that there are still many people around who would like to see our community dissolved and powerless. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, is one of the biggest proponents of just such a movement to discredit and render us politically powerless.

That’s why it is important to document our history, to show young people in our community what we accomplished and to show our detractors that we’ve fought many battles in the past and that we will do it again if necessary.

Perhaps, it could be a collaborative effort, with many writers who lived through the times reflecting on what happened.

We’ve certainly got the talent and the resources in Dallas to document our history. The idea has been tossed around before, but apparently nothing has ever came of it. Isn’t it time that we did it?

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Kobe Bryant fined $100,000 for anti-gay slur; Laura Miller to endorse Kunkle

Kobe Bryant

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using an anti-gay slur against a referee on Tuesday night. Bryant was caught on video calling ref Bennie Adams a “fucking faggot” after Adams gave him a technical foul. Bryant apologized before the fine was handed down Wednesday, and he later reportedly phoned Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese personally. In case you’re wondering, Bryant earns about $25 million a year in salary (not counting endorsements). If you earn $50,000 annually, Bryant’s $100,000 fine would be the equivalent of a $200 speeding ticket. Even though Bryant wasn’t suspended, we suppose the fine is progress as the NBA moves to become more gay-friendly. On the same day that Bryant used the slur, Phoenix Suns player Grant Hill taped an ad that will air during the NBA Finals for GLSEN’s “Think Before You Speak” campaign.

2. Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller will endorse ex-Police Chief David Kunkle for mayor tonight, The Dallas Morning News reports (subscription required). Miller’s endorsement could hurt Kunkle in South Dallas, where she wasn’t particularly popular, but will help him in other parts of the city. It will almost certainly help Kunkle among LGBT voters, who view Miller as an icon. Kunkle has already received the endorsement of Stonewall Democrats.

3. Delaware is poised to legalize civil unions and become the eighth state to offer same-sex couples a comprehensive legal status short of marriage. The Delaware House is expected to vote today on the civil unions bill, which already cleared the Senate and has the support of Gov. Jack Markell.

—  John Wright

CORRECTION: All major candidates for Dallas mayor vied for LGBT vote in 2002

In my cover story for this week’s paper, I made a minor mistake. Actually it was fairly major. The opening paragraph of the story, as originally written, stated that 2011 marks the first time in history that all major candidates for Dallas mayor have actively courted the LGBT vote.

As former DV staff writer David Webb pointed out in the comments to the story, that’s not true. In 2002, Laura Miller, Tom Dunning and Domingo Garcia — the three major candidates for mayor — all courted the LGBT vote.

From The Dallas Mornings News on Jan. 15, 2002:

Dallas gays and lesbians, who used to hope that they could just find a candidate who wouldn’t be hostile to their interests, find themselves for the first time being wooed from all directions in what boils down to a three-way citywide race – and disagreeing about whom to support.

“It’s the first time I haven’t had to go vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Deb Elder, a Laura Miller supporter and political organizer. “Nothing has piqued my passion like this mayoral vote.”

Put another way, with major candidates Ms. Miller, Tom Dunning, and Domingo Garcia all touting their support for including gays in a nondiscrimination ordinance, a sector of voters that was shunned not long ago can’t lose this time around.

“It’s historic. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t know it would be this soon,” said Michael Milliken, one of the city’s first publicly identified gay appointees. “The gay community is in a unique position this year.”

I had based my report on statements by openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who called the 2011 mayoral election “a watershed moment for the community” and “unprecedented.”

While that may be true in some other respects, this isn’t the first time all major mayoral candidates have sought the LGBT vote, and I apologize for the error.

—  John Wright