On Saturday, while Gov. Rick Perry was throwing his prayer rally “The Response” inside Reliant Stadium and GetEQUAL was staging mock funerals at the front gate, the Harris County Democratic Party sat down to a quite luncheon honoring LGBT Trailblazers. The highlight of the luncheon was the videotaped acceptance speech by Houston Mayor Annise Parker (WATCH IT BELOW). In 2009 Parker became the first out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city after years of community service as an activist, city council member and city controller.
Parker was unable to accept her award in person due to previously scheduled city business. Via pre-recorded message she thanked the luncheon’s co-chairs, Robert Shipman and Brad Pritchett, and the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, who took the lead in organizing the event.
Parker’s son, Jonon Tyler, accepted the award on behalf of his mother. Tyler talked about the thrill of riding with Mayor Parker in the 2010 Dallas Pride Parade, about how the crowd seemed to swell with hope and pride at seeing her. “When we see Mayor Annise Parker, we see the best in ourselves,” said Tyler. “We’ve only seen the beginning; the best is yet to come.”
Also honored as LGBT Trailblazers were Judge Steven Kirkland, City Councilwoman Sue Lovell, Judge Phyllis Frye and Linda Morales. Judge John Paul Barnich received a posthumous award.
Judge Kirkland was the first out LGBT judge elected in Texas (previous out judges had all been appointed). He was self-deprecating in accepting his award. “I’d like to tell you that my ego is not so large that I believe that the over 650,000 people who voted for me went down the ballot and selected my name out and said, ‘I’m voting for Steve Kirland because he’s the best guy there,’” said Kirkland. “I got elected in 2008 because people in Harris County were voting for Democrats and they were doing that for a lot of reasons. One would be President Obama … the other would be president Bush.”
Lovell, who leaves the council this year due to term limits, warned the crowd about the need to remain supportive of out LGBT elected officials, and the dangers of in-fighting. “We must remember that the victories that we want to achieve do not come at the expense of our community,” said Lovell. “That energy, that intelligence, that organization must be taken and focused outward, to the people who are really against us.”
A small contingent from Westboro Baptist Church camped out in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the Trailblazers Luncheon took place. Lou Weaver, president of the Transgender Foundation of America, commented on the irony of WBC’s protest during his introduction of Frye.
“Thirty-four years ago, in 1977, Anita Bryant was in this very hotel speaking to the State Bar Association,” said Weaver. “Phyllis was outside of this hotel that day, protesting. My how times have changed! Today Phyllis is on the inside, and the forces of bigotry are on the outside.”
Frye, whom the program described as “an Eagle Scout, a former member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, a US Army veteran, a licensed attorney, a father, and a married, lesbian wife for 38 years,” pointed out that she didn’t protest Anita Bryant on her own. Her wife Trish was by her side.
“It was so scary because we didn’t know what would happen,” said Trish Frye. “We didn’t know if they would start throwing things or arresting people, because sometimes that happened.”
Linda Morales, who in 1990 filed a lawsuit that paved the way for the eventual Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision striking down Texas’ sodomy law, spoke of the need for coalition building between the Hispanic and LGBT communities.
Mistress of Ceremonies Fiona Dawson eulogized the late Barnich in her presentation of his posthumous award. Dawson shared that when Judge Barnich was appointed to the Houston municipal bench he was asked during his confirmation hearing how a gay judge’s courtroom would differ from a straight one’s. Barnich, recalled Dawson, coyly replied that he would “upgrade the courtroom’s sound system in order to play showtunes.”
The final award of the evening was presented to “LGBT families for being everyday Trailblazers.” Luncheon co-chair Shipman said that “30 years ago the fight for equality was on the streets of [Houston’s historically gay neighborhood] Montrose. Today the fight is in the suburbs and it’s these families with two moms or two dads who are fighting it.”
Dawson closed the luncheon with a rousing plea for greater community involvement. “When our country is not permitting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we have a responsibility to speak up,” she said. “If all people cared about LGBT issues, they simply would not be issues.”