Rick Perry began 2011 being sworn in to a third four-year term as Texas’ governor. He ends it on a bus tour of Iowa, where he’s trying frantically to climb back into contention for the GOP presidential nomination as the Hawkeye State’s Jan. 3 caucuses near.
Perry is perhaps the most anti-gay governor in Texas history — and that’s saying something. So, when rumors began to swirl this spring that “Governor Goodhair” was planning to run for president, the LGBT community seemed to collectively grimace. For most, the downside of Perry holding national office would far outweigh one small consolation: At least he would finally have to depart the Lone Star State.
Longstanding rumors that Perry is a closeted homosexual quickly resurfaced. And, as if to try to put an end to them once and for all, Perry organized a “day of prayer” at Reliant Stadium in Houston, called The Response and funded by the American Family Association. The AFA is considered an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and those who signed on as endorsers of Perry’s prayer rally certainly had the views to back up the designation.
The Response drew a huge response from, among others, the LGBT community, with activists staging counterdemonstrations in H-Town during a sweltering first weekend of August. Perry insisted The Response wasn’t political, but a week later he announced his campaign for president.
Republicans were smitten, and Perry skyrocketed to the top of GOP presidential polls — positioning himself as a highly-sought-after, more conservative alternative to presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Just before he formally launched his presidential bid, Perry stated at an event in Colorado that he believed marriage is a state’s rights issue and New York’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage was “fine with me.”
Under intense pressure from social conservatives, he quickly retracted the statement and came out firmly in support of a federal marriage amendment.
But that didn’t stop Rob Schlein, then president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, from writing a controversial column in which he said he would vote for Perry over President Barack Obama, despite the governor’s anti-gay record. The column was one of several factors that led National Log Cabin to de-charter the Dallas chapter, which is now known as Metroplex Republicans.
Perry would go on to sign a pledge from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage and come out against the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” But in the end, it appears his right-wing credentials weren’t enough to overcome major, repeated gaffes during nationally televised debates this fall.
In the most memorable one, Perry forgot the third federal department he would eliminate as president in what has become known as his “oops” moment.
Desperate to recover from the gaffes, Perry’s campaign lurched even further to the right — releasing a campaign ad called “Strong” in which he declared: “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
“Strong” spawned many parodies, with some harping on the fact that Perry’s jacket in the ad resembled the one worn by Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. “Strong” also garnered the second-most dislikes of any video on YouTube. Above all, though, where it really counts among Republican voters, the ad didn’t work.
As of this week, Perry was polling fifth in Iowa — and second among candidates from Texas behind Congressman Ron Paul.
— John Wright
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.