Founded to support one particular LGBT community hero’s reelection, Stonewall has grown into a political powerhouse
DAVID TAFFET | MSenior Staff Writer
Michael Milliken, one of the four founders of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, credits Log Cabin Republicans for the founding of the group.
Log Cabin was supporting a candidate running against state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, who had been an icon in the LGBT community since her days as a Dallas Independent School District board member supporting gay and lesbian teachers that superintendent Linus Wright was determined to fire.
An organization called the Lesbian Gay Political Coalition had previously been interviewing and endorsing candidates. Milliken said that group was all-inclusive, and that worked until it came to someone like Ehrhardt.
“We needed to do something about this,” Milliken said, explaining how a group met in his living room to create Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, modeled after a similar group from Los Angeles. The organization has grown from that small group of four to one of the largest Democratic Party groups in the state.
Former Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said Stonewall has gone from being an organization that begged candidates to come screen with them to one candidates beg for its endorsement. That’s because a Stonewall endorsement brings money, volunteers and votes.
Being a member of Stonewall helps get candidates in Dallas elected. Gary Fitzsimmons, one of Stonewall’s founders, served two terms as Dallas County district clerk. Narvaez was elected to the board of Dallas County Schools. Judge Tanya Parker and Sheriff Lupe Valdez are members of Stonewall. A number of members have been elected precinct chairs.
Being a Stonewall member hasn’t just worked for LGBT candidates. A slew of elected officials are straight members of Stonewall. Judge Tina Yoo’s husband even served several years on Stonewall’s board.
Former Stonewall President Erin Moore said, “I saw Stonewall evolve from challenging elected officials about our rights to working with elected officials to ensure our rights.” She said Stonewall became a trusted political organization within the Democratic Party by being the “trusted boots on the ground.”
That included providing volunteers for everything from block walking for candidates, phone banking and holding voter registration drives to making donations to campaigns.
Moore credits former President Shannon Bailey for organizing at the state level. The State Democratic Executive Committee added two seats for Stonewall Democrats of Texas.
Narvaez credits former President Jesse Garcia with creating alliances with groups like LULAC. Not only did he bring many LGBT Latinos into Stonewall, but helped LULAC understand that LGBT issues were their issues and their issues were Stonewall issues.
LULAC’s condemnation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, among the first by a national organization that didn’t represent LGBT interests, originated largely in Dallas and Narvaez credits Garcia with laying the groundwork.
Moore said that in her years with Stonewall, she saw support for LGBT issues in the Democratic Party go from silence, to a whisper to full support. In 2012, she sat on the state platform committee, which made marriage equality a plank.
A turning point for Stonewall came in 2006 where Democratic candidates swept Dallas County elections. For the first time, a Democrat was elected sheriff. Judges such as Dennise Garcia came into office. By 2008, Democrats swept judgeships in the county, and by 2012, Republicans only held one position on Commissioners Court.
Many elected officials credit the largest Democratic club in the area for those victories.
Jay Narey is Stonewall’s current president and has been a member for most of the organization’s 20 years. He said he learned about Stonewall at a state Democratic convention where he was a delegate.
“What intrigued me was people walking around with rainbow Texas stickers,” he said. “The lesbian and gay community was welcomed and supported in the party.”
In addition to growth from a core group of 10 people when he first joined to paid membership of up to 300 during election years, Narey said he has noticed the support from local officials and how comfortable they are working with Stonewall.
To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, Stonewall will be the first group to hold an event at the new LGBT Community Center, with an open house and fundraiser Monday, May 23, at the new building at 5750 Cedar Springs Road. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres would be served and members will reflect on where the organization has been and discuss plans for moving forward.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2016.