Gay SBOE member George Clayton blames defeat on sexual orientation, plans write-in campaign

Clayton.George.Southworth

State Board of Education member George Clayton, right, is shown with his partner of 34 years, Jim Southworth. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

George Clayton, a gay State Board of Education member from Richardson, said his sexual orientation “had a great deal to do with” his defeat in the GOP primary May 29. Clayton, believed to be Texas’ first openly LGBT Republican elected official, also said he’s planning a write-in campaign in November as a last-ditch effort to hang on to his District 12 seat.

In his first public comments since the primary, Clayton lashed out at the two candidates who finished ahead of him, calling one “a bigot” and saying they are both “narrow-minded CINOS, Christians in Name Only.”

Clayton finished third behind Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, who held the seat for decades before Clayton defeated her in the 2010 Republican primary, and tea party candidate Gail Spurlock. Miller and Spurlock will meet in a runoff July 31, and the winner will face Democrat Lois Parrot in November to represent the heavily GOP district that includes all of Collin County.

“I have never yet figured out just exactly what my three opponents could tell me that I’ve done so wrong,” Clayton told the Texas Observer this week, speaking publicly about his primary defeat for the first time. “I am convinced more than ever that my sexual orientation had a great deal to do with it. And I will not permit that to defeat me.”

Clayton, who did not run as an openly LGBT candidate when he wont the seat in 2010, came out as gay in response to a whisper campaign about his sexual orientation led by a conservative group in the district last fall. Clayton would later tell Dallas Voice that his sexual orientation hadn’t come up during the primary campaign, but he told the Observer this week: “It was never blatantly mentioned to me. I can feel it in the air and see it in the faces of the people listening to me talk. I can tell there were some people, these reactionary, uber-conservative types who were just bursting to say something, but they didn’t.”

Clayton didn’t return phone calls seeking comment following the May 29 primary. But he broke his silence this week after he responded to an email from a supporter of Spurlock, blogger Donna Garner, who repeatedly attacked him for being gay during the primary. The Dallas Morning News published the full email exchange between Clayton and Garner.

“Donna, you are as big a fake as Gail [Spurlock],” Clayton wrote to Garner. “Gail has no college degree. She is not teacher certified. She has never taught in the public schools. She is a hard right wing agenda driven bigot. Her zeal for her political/religious agenda is dangeous. She will NOT sit on the SBOE. However, neither will Tincy or Lois.”

In a subsequent email to Garner, Clayton said he was “trashed beyond belief in the primary campaign by Gail, Tincy and other narrow minded CINOS, Christians In Name Only.”

“You are one of them,” Clayton wrote to Garner. “You and Gail carry a Bible in one hand and a bag of stones in the other. If you have not figured it out yet, I will let you in. I plan to continue my campaign as a write in candidate in the November general election. It will be very high profile and, this time, with gloves off. So, you, Gail and that tax dodging Miller crowd just get prepared. Official press releases are prepared and ready to go out soon.  In the meantime, a great deal of organizing with teachers and parents is underway. So you see, it is not over until it is over. I hope you don’t mind my frank talk. It is likely to become brutal.”

—  John Wright

Rewriting history

Recently outed State Board of Education member George Clayton vies to become the first candidate elected in Texas as an openly gay Republican

Clayton.George.Cover

UNIQUELY QUALIFIED | Clayton, shown at a board meeting last year, is the only educator in the race. He serves as special projects coordinator at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. (Associated Press)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor

There was a moment when George Clayton considered throwing in the towel.

It was last November and Clayton, a first-term Republican member of Texas’ State Board of Education from Richardson, had become the subject of an apparent whisper campaign concerning his sexual orientation.

After the 62-year-old Clayton put an end to the rumors once and for all by publicly acknowledging he’s gay, commenters on news sites predicted he wouldn’t stand a chance of getting re-elected in District 12, which includes all of Collin County, one of the most conservative urban areas in the nation.

And Clayton was starting to believe it.

“There was a moment after this broke that I thought well, I’m not going to pull out, but maybe I’ll just suspend the campaign,” Clayton told Dallas Voice in an exclusive interview last week.

Clayton called a meeting with his brain trust, which includes his campaign manager and partner of 34 years, Jim Southworth, as well as his sister, Dallas County District Judge Teresa Hawthorne.

“They were against me pulling out altogether,” Clayton recalled. “So I said OK, let’s move on with this. We’ll go down the road, and if it gets really, really rough, then we’ll meet again, but it hasn’t.”

In fact, Clayton said his sexual orientation hasn’t come up at all on the campaign trail since then, even during the many candidate forums he’s attended in the district.

Clayton, believed to be the first openly gay Republican officeholder in Texas’ history, said he realizes his sexual orientation may hurt him among some primary voters on May 29 — when he faces three GOP challengers. But he said he’s also heard from plenty of Republicans in the district — which has a population of 1.7 million and also includes portions of northern Dallas County — who are totally supportive.

“It’s amazing, and it has been encouraging, because I didn’t want to spend the rest of the campaign having that discussion, and that’s where it would have gone if I hadn’t said anything,” Clayton said. “What they were hoping is that I would try to cover it up, Nixon-ize the damn thing, or deny it, lie about it, stonewall, circumvent it in some way.

“All that would do is create more problems for me, and I’ve got plenty of those already,” he added. “And if it killed off the campaign completely, and there was always that risk, then it killed it off. But I never thought that it would, and it hasn’t.”

Deep political roots

Clayton said he and Southworth first devised their strategy for dealing with potential rumors about his sexual orientation — by responding honestly and forcefully — when he ran for City Council in Tampa, Fla., in 1987.

“We had had this discussion as far back as Tampa, that when somebody comes up and attempts to slap me down, the best thing I can do is slap back harder than they have,” he said.

Clayton wouldn’t need the strategy in the 1987 race. Although the issue didn’t come up, he lost anyway.

“I had no business on that council,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.”

Regardless of his defeat in that first campaign, Clayton had always seemed destined to run for public office.

As a student at Garland High School, he was elected president of his sophomore, junior and senior classes.

In 1968, at age 19, Clayton became the youngest delegate to the Democratic National Convention, representing Dallas.

“The Democratic Party was somewhat different in those days,” Clayton said. “When George McGovern and Jane Fonda took control of the party, it didn’t fit me anymore. I switched to the Republican Party long before the Reagan revolution, when it became very fashionable to do that.”

Clayton said he knew he was gay from a very young age, and although he never hid it, he “didn’t get on the rooftop and announce it either.”

Clayton.George.Southworth

34 YEARS AND COUNTING  | Clayton, right, and his partner, Jim Southworth, met at Throckmorton Mining Co. in 1978. Southworth also serves as Clayton’s campaign manager. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

He and Southworth met in 1978 at Throckmorton Mining Co., which was the first gay bar in the Cedar Springs area — on a Tuesday night.

“I never went out on a weeknight,” Clayton recalled. “He walked in, and we started talking, and we’ve been talking ever since. One day we’re going to get it settled.”

A year later, the couple moved to Florida, where Clayton earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of South Florida.

He became heavily involved in the Hillsborough County Republican Party in Tampa, serving on the Executive Committee and chairing many fundraisers. Although Clayton and Southworth regularly attended party functions together, there was never an uproar.

“I just went about my business like everyone else did,” Clayton said. “I thought I was entitled to. I still do.”

After the couple moved back to Dallas in 1999, Clayton decided to leave a career in real estate to become a teacher at North Dallas High School.

“It was fairly obvious from the time I walked into a building that something serious had happened from the time I left public school,” Clayton said.

“The primary thing that had happened was that management of education had been wrestled from teachers and handed to politicians in Austin, Texas — and you talk about mismanaging something …”

Clayton spent 12 years at North Dallas, where he served as English department chair and academic coordinator, before recently being named special projects coordinator at Thomas Jefferson High School. Among other things, Clayton said he now helps prepare teachers for changes in testing requirements.

Officials in Austin, Clayton said, have created an enormous “testing industry” that has “taken over” public education in Texas.

“It’s marginalized the teachers, but in some cases it’s almost made the teacher obsolete,” he said. “The teacher is now a testing coordinator, a testing facilitator, and that’s when I looked around and said, ‘Where do I go?’ The first thought is, get in politics.”

As a district employee, Clayton was barred from running for DISD’s Board of Trustees. So he turned his attention to the State Board of Education, which writes K-12 curriculum for Texas schools.

Shocking upset

Clayton quickly discovered that his SBOE representative in District 12, Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, had never been an educator. Miller had served on the SBOE for 26 years without opposition.

Miller.Tincy

OUT FOR REVENGE | Geraldine ‘Tincy’ Miller, shown at a board meeeting in 2008, served for 26 years with no opposition. After losing to Clayton in 2010, the 74-year-old Miller reportedly plans to spend more than $50,000 of her own money this year in her bid to win back the seat. (Associated Press)

Now 74, Miller is married to Vance Miller, the son of late Dallas real estate mogul Henry S. Miller Jr.

Clayton said Ms. Miller had a sense of entitlement about the SBOE seat, acting as though she owned it.

“She didn’t take me seriously,” he said.

It was a combination of Miller’s complacency and his strong grassroots campaign, Clayton said, that propelled him to a shocking upset in the 2010 primary. His sexual orientation never came up, and he defeated Miller by a margin of 3,000 votes, or 52 percent to 48 percent.

“I had so many teachers out working for me, and many of them Democrats,” Clayton said. “They saw a need for an educator on the board, especially from this huge urban area.

“She’s never worked in a public school system,” he said of Miller. “She’s never had to. She’s never lived on $45,000 a year. She’s never had to. … I’m not begrudging her her money — I’d like to have some myself — but I do resent a multimillionaire thinking she can represent teachers who are making $45,000 a year and are constantly being threatened with their jobs.”

Clayton said his victory devastated Miller, who didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.

“I’m told she practically went catatonic,” he said of her reaction on election night.

Two years later, Clayton said Miller has set out to win back her seat at all costs, vowing to spend more than $50,000 of her own money on the race.

Two other Republican candidates are also challenging Clayton — Gail Spurlock and Pam Little.

Lois Parrot is unopposed in the Democratic Primary, but the district is heavily Republican, and the GOP nominee is all but certain to win the seat.

Clayton estimated his three GOP challengers will spend a combined total of $100,000, while he expects to raise less than $10,000.

“That’s two and a half teachers’ salaries for a government position that pays nothing,” he said. “I have to ask myself just what it is I’ve done wrong.”

Whisper campaign

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that monitors the SBOE, said unlike in the years leading up to Clayton’s election— when the board drew national attention for its battles over science and U.S. history — there haven’t been many controversial votes in his 16 months on the board.

Clayton has consistently been a “swing” or moderate Republican vote, Quinn said. The SBOE is currently made up of 11 Republicans — six of whom are hard-right social conservatives who vote as a bloc — and four Democrats.

“He takes his job seriously as a representative for the people in his district,” Quinn said. “George Clayton’s votes have generally been with the five traditional conservatives.”

Quinn said in 2010, District 12 was “the last race we were looking at,” as TFN simply assumed Miller would win. Although the group doesn’t endorse in primaries, Quinn condemned the gay-baiting tactics used against Clayton.

“Quite obviously whether or not he’s gay makes no difference at all in how he does his job as a State Board of Education member, and it’s appalling that right-wing groups up there would think that this is an appropriate thing to do, to smear somebody in such a way, as if being gay in the first place is something to be ashamed of,” Quinn said.

Rumors about Clayton’s sexual orientation first surfaced on blogs as early as October 2010, but they didn’t gain traction until late last year, when the president of the Golden Corridor Republican Women, Susan Fletcher, sent an email to board members reporting on an interview she’d done with Miller.

The GCRW has members in Collin, Dallas and Denton counties, and Fletcher’s interview with Miller focused on hot-button issues including evolution and abstinence-only education. At the bottom of her email to board members, Fletcher wrote of Clayton: “What are his living arrangements in Richardson? With whom does he live? It’s not appropriate to comment further — but this needs to be investigated.”

In Clayton’s response sent to media outlets confirming that he’s gay, he alleged that in addition to the GCRW, Miller herself was behind the whisper campaign. He now says he has no concrete proof of that, but was basing it on the fact that Miller was a party to the interview with Fletcher.

“Anything like that has to start somewhere, but I steer clear of that nonsense,” Clayton said. “I just go out and talk about education. Maybe Tincy didn’t instigate it, but she planned to take advantage of it. I was not going to allow that to happen. I was not going to give her any room to wiggle.”

Fletcher, meanwhile, claims her comments about Clayton were taken out of context. Fletcher told Dallas Voice her suggestion that Clayton needed to be investigated was related to his “position on sex education in the classroom and whether or not his personal life indicated there may be an agenda.”

“Because it was a private e-mail, an explanation of what needed to be investigated was not necessary,” Fletcher wrote in an email last week. “BOE candidates should expect these kinds of questions regarding their educational philosophy — as one’s personal life/world view frequently influence[s] the policy decisions they make. As a constituent of District 12, I am advocating for an abstinence only curriculum when it comes to sex education. I do not want the school teaching about heterosexual or homosexual topics, as that opens the door for an unhealthy lifestyle.”

Donna Garner, a socially conservative activist from Waco who’s been involved in SBOE races, issued a statement withdrawing her endorsement of Clayton after learning he was gay.

“If Clayton is indeed a homosexual, then we as voters must be concerned about re-electing him to the SBOE since the Board will soon begin the process of writing and adopting Health curriculum requirements for all Texas public school students,” Garner said in the November statement.
Contacted last week, Garner told Dallas Voice she had “nothing more to say on this issue after having made my initial statement.”

“Gail Spurlock is the candidate we are supporting because she is an authentic conservative and holds our same traditional values,” Garner said in an email.

“When I say ‘we,’ I mean those people across Texas who believe that schools should teach knowledge-based academic skills, largely objectively tested, instead of making the public schools a place for social engineering,” she added.

Spurlock’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for an interview. Little, meanwhile, said she would have to “respectfully decline” an interview with Dallas Voice.

Running on his record

Clayton said Spurlock, who’s running on an ultraconservative tea party platform, doesn’t even have a college degree, while Little currently works as a clerk at a fence company.

“If I’m more qualified, it’s because I know more about curriculum education,” Clayton said. “It really disturbs me to know that one of these women, gracious as they are, will go on that board, but it could happen.”

At candidate forums, Clayton said his challengers typically begin by declaring that they’re the only “real Republican” or “true conservative” in the race, before continuing the narrative throughout their remarks.

Clayton, meanwhile, focuses on education, and unlike the others, he’s able to provide real-world examples based on his experience.

“That’s why at the end of these meetings, I always come away feeling a little better,” Clayton said. “They’re relying on their political agenda to see them through, which tells me that if they get on the board, it’s their political agenda that’s going to be their priority on the board.”

Even though Clayton’s sexual orientation hasn’t come up at the candidate forums, he realizes people may be discussing it privately. But he said he has no way of knowing that, and even if he did, there isn’t much he could do.

“I’m going to have to ride this thing through,” he said. “I’m going to rely on the good hearts and the intellect of the voters in my precincts, and Collin County especially, and rely on their intelligence to know the difference between a qualified person to be on the board, and people who have political ambitions and political agendas.

“Do I think it will hurt me? The answer is I’m sure it will among some voters, and maybe some voters who voted for me last time up in Collin County,” Clayton said. “But do I think I still have a chance? I think so.”

TFN’s Quinn said Clayton’s “going to have to be tough” and focus on his record, as well as what he wants to accomplish on the board going forward.

Quinn added he has no doubt the whisper campaign against Clayton is continuing.

“There may not be real public things said or done, but I can guarantee you that’s going on behind the scenes,” Quinn said. “One would hope we’ve reached the point in our society that people can run for office and be judged on their positions on the issues and not their sexual orientation. The unfortunate thing is, the Republican Party in Texas is extremely homophobic.”

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, said the problem isn’t necessarily confined to Texas.

Of the 530 openly LGBT officials the Victory Fund has identified nationwide, just 20 are members of the GOP.

“Republicans are a fraction of the out officials in the country, which is something we’d like to see change,” Dison said. “Even though you have plenty of people working in politics who are Republican and gay, the idea that they would be out about that is an even newer phenomenon in the GOP than in the Democratic Party.”

Since being outed, Clayton has spoken at a meeting of the gay group Log Cabin Republicans, which also held a fundraiser for him at his home. But he’s declined to seek the endorsement of the Victory Fund, saying he didn’t want to run as “the gay candidate.”

“True equality to me comes without having to precede your name with a label,” he said.

At the same time, Clayton acknowledged that for him and Southworth, his status as Texas’ first out GOP officeholder is a source of pride.

“That’s not lost on us,” he said, adding that if he’s re-elected, the significance will only grow. “Something else that’s not lost on us is, if I win this election, it’s going to bring that up even more, I know it will, at which point because I have come out, it frees me up a little bit to be more frank and above board, and I will be, and I promise you that.

“But I’ve got to win the damned election,” he said. “If I lose the election, it’s going to be, ‘I told you so.’”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Early voting in runoff election off to slow start

For those who missed it, there is an election happening in Houston right now. Four City Council races wound up in run-offs after the November 8 municipal elections and Houstonians have until December 10 to decide the fate of these crucial races.  So far fewer than 2,000 people have voted. Without a “big ticket” item like the mayor’s race at the top of the ballot turnout in the runoff is expected to be very low. The upshot of which is that every ballot cast carries more weight than ever.

Two of the races are at-large seats, so every citizen of Houston gets to vote on this races:

  • In At-large position 2 former State Representative Kristi Thibaut faces Andrew C. Burks Jr. Pastor of Bailey Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • In At-large position 5 incumbent council member Jolanda Jones faces Jack Christie, former State Board of Education member .

Two of the races are for district seats, so only people who live in those districts get to vote on these races:

  • In District A incumbent council member Brenda Stardig faces republican activist Helena Brown.
  • In District B local restauranteur and education advocate Jerry Davis faces Alvin Byrd, current staffer for council member Jarvis Johnson.

Early voting continues through December 6th, election day is November 8. Voters may cast their ballot at any early voting location. Visit harrisvotes.org to find your election day polling location (it may be different than your November polling place) and to view a sample ballot.

—  admin

Did a Republican member of the Texas State Board of Education just come out as gay?

George Clayton

George Clayton, a Republican member of the State Board of Education from Richardson, sent an email to several news organizations last week that appears to confirm he’s gay.

Clayton is an academic coordinator at North Dallas High School, according to his bio on the Texas Education Agency website. He won the District 12 SBOE seat in 2010, when he defeated longtime Republican incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller in the primary.

Clayton sent out his email in response to an apparent whisper campaign about his sexual orientation among Republicans in the district, which covers all of Collin County. Miller is trying to unseat Clayton and recapture her old seat in 2012.

“It has come to my attention that one of my opponents in my bid for reelection to the State Board of Education and certain member(s) of the Golden Corridor Republican Women’s Club are questioning my sexual orientation,” Clayton said in his email. “So as to avoid the tyranny of misinformation and innuendo in this political race, I wish to say that I, in fact, do have a male partner who lives with me in my home in Richardson, Texas. I hope this frank announcement satisfies Tincy Miller and the ladies associate with the Golden Corridor organization. All of us can now move on with discussions concerning education instead of being overly occupied with my personal life.”

According to the Texas Tribune, Miller claims she isn’t the one who brought up Clayton’s sexual orientation, but she noted that others have. The Texas Freedom Network reports that Susan Fletcher, president of the Golden Corridor Women’s Club, suggested in an email recently that Clayton’s personal life “needs to be investigated.” The TFN also notes that Clayton’s sexual orientation became the subject of rumors online last year.

Clayton’s email confirming that he’s gay has already prompted one right-winger, Donna Garner of Waco, to withdraw her endorsement of his re-election bid.

“If Clayton is indeed a homosexual, then we as voters must be concerned about re-electing him to the SBOE since the Board will soon begin the process of writing and adopting Health curriculum requirements for all Texas public school students,” Garner wrote.

Clayton, who would be the first known openly gay Republican elected official in Texas history, could not immediately be reached for comment.

More to come …

—  John Wright

Equality Texas calls on Board of Education to include LGBT people in TEKS standards

Equality Texas 594x144Equality Texas today issued a statement calling on the Texas State Board of Education to revise the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards to more accurately reflect the diversity of the Lone Star State’s population by including information on LGBT people.

The statement, whose title accused “radical revisionists” of “highjacking our students’ education,” said Equality Texas has submitted “more than a dozen comments and suggested revisions” to the state board that would “help foster a healthier development for all Texas youth.”

The statement said Equality Texas representatives will be attending the May 19 meeting of the SBOE to advocate for the suggested revisions. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the William B. Travis Building in Austin.

“Even though nearly three out of four adults in the United States personally know or work with a gay or transgender person, the standards treat LGBT people as non-existent,” the statement said.

Among the suggested revisions proposed by Equality Texas are:

• foster healthy lives for our kids with an accurate discussion of gender and sexual orientation/identity under the psychology and/or sociology sections;
• discuss non-traditional families (blended, families led by same-sex couples and single parents) under the sociology section;
•include past and current human rights struggle of LGBT people under the United States History Studies section.

For more information, contact Equality Texas.

—  admin

Board of Education protects kids from dangers of learning the difference between sex, gender

Mavis Knight
Before voting against the new curriculum standards, Democratic board member Mavis Knight of Dallas said, “I cannot go back to my community and say I participated in perpetrating this fraud on the students of this state.”

The State Board of Education today gave tentative approval to new curriculum standards for history and other social studies, following three days of contentious debate, The Dallas Morning News reports. Much of the debate centered around race and religion. As it turns out, many of the board members simply don’t agree with the separation of church and state, and they certainly don’t want schoolchildren in Texas learning about blacks or Hispanics. But do you know what might be an even bigger threat than teaching kids about minorities or the First Amendment? You guessed it — teaching them the difference between sex and gender. The Austin American-Statesman reports:

Board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, objected to a standard for a high school sociology course that addressed the difference between sex and gender. It was eliminated in a 9-to-6 vote.

She worried that a discussion of that issue would lead students into the world of “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else.”

“This is very, very inappropriate for high school students,” Cargill said.

But board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, countered that it was naïve to think high school students would not know that some of their classmates were gay, bisexual or transgender.

“It is no secret to them, so you might as well bring it out into the open and discuss it,” Knight said.

—  John Wright