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

LGBT history and the evolution of the media

For years, mainstream press ignored the LGBT community. Thankfully, LGBT media filled the gaps

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

Editor’s note: October is National Gay History Month, and as the month begins, Rare Reporter columnist David Webb takes a look at the role the media — both mainstream and LGBT — has played in preserving our history.

If an LGBT person went into a coma a decade or so ago and came out of it today, they likely wouldn’t be able to believe their eyes when they recovered enough to survey the media landscape.

There was a time not so long ago when gay activists literally had to plead with or rant at editors and reporters at mainstream publications and television stations to get them to cover LGBT events. Even editorial staffs at alternative publications often dismissed political and cultural events in the LGBT community as unimportant to the majority of their audience.

Editors and reporters at traditional media outlets who happened to be members of the LGBT community often steared clear of gay issues to fall in line with the prevailing policies set by the publishers in the newsroom . Often, they were deep in the closet, or if not, just afraid to challenge the status quo.

I know all this to be true because as late as the early 1990s, I was engaged in legendary battles with my straight editor at an alternative publication who only wanted two or three “gay stories” per year. After the first quarter of one year I heard the editor telling another writer that I had already used up the newspaper’s quota for gay stories for the whole year.

This long-standing scarcity of coverage opened the door for the launch of gay newspapers to fill the void and the thirst for information that was coming not only from LGBT people but also straight allies, straight enemies and the non-committed in the gay rights movement.

After about two decades of working for the mainstream media and later at the alternative publication for a few years, I moved to a gay newspaper. Upon hearing about it, my former editor advised me that the job sounded “perfect” for me.

At the gay newspaper, I not only covered LGBT issues, but I also liked to scrutinize and comment on the coverage or lack thereof I observed in mainstream publications. It was, at the time, a dream job for me. I was flabbergasted to learn that no one at the newspaper had obtained a media pass from local law enforcement officials nor received official recognition at local law enforcement public relations departments.

What gay activists and enterprising journalists had come to realize was that straight people were just as interested in what our community was doing as we were. I also realized that elected and appointed public officials, civic and religious leaders, law enforcement officials and most others love media coverage, and the fact that it was a gay publication featuring them didn’t much matter at all.

As a result, gay publications across the country were providing coverage that gay and straight readers couldn’t find anywhere else. And those newspapers were flying out of the racks at the libraries, municipal buildings and on the street in front of the big city newspapers as fast as they disappeared from gay and lesbian nightclubs.

What it amounted to was that gay publications were enjoying a lucrative monopoly on LGBT news and, in the process, helping LGBT communities to grow strong in major urban areas.

It’s amazing how long it took the powers that be at the giant media companies to figure out what was going on, but they eventually did.

I would love to say that a social awakening was responsible for the new enlightened approach to LGBT issues by the mainstream media, but alas, I fear it was more motivated by dollars and cents. Publishers began to realize that those small gay publications were raking in lots of advertising revenue from car dealers, retail stores, real estate agencies and many other businesses where the owners knew LGBT people spent money.

Today, you can hardly turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or magazine without hearing or reading about something related to LGBT news or gay and lesbian celebrities and politicians. When I fired up my laptop today, I received an e-mail from the Huffington Post directing me to a story written by Arianna Huffington announcing new features that included the debut of “HuffPost: Gay Voices,” a page that will compile LGBT news stories together each day for the convenience of the readers.

With the power of the Internet and its capacity for documenting and archiving news stories, information about the LGBT community for both the present and the past will always be at our fingertips, except for those three decades between about 1970 and 2000 when the mainstream media couldn’t be bothered with us because they had no idea what a force we would one day become.

For information about that period of time we are going to have to scour the coverage of gay newspapers and magazines published before the days of the Internet, read fiction and non-fiction published by LGBT writers and encourage older members of our community to share their recollections in written and oral form.

It’s vitally important to the history of our culture that we not lose those stories, and it’s largely thanks to our communities’ own publications that we won’t.

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.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas