Looking back at the longest-serving Texas governor’s time in office
We knew a new governor would be taking power in Texas come January 2015, one way or another. Gov. Rick Perry — the longest serving, most blatantly anti-LGBT governor in Texas history — finally will be stepping down.
What a wild ride Perry gave Texas’ LGBT community. Assuming the helm of Texas government in December 2000 when then-Gov. George W. Bush won the presidential election, Perry dropped his first bomb on the LGBT community in 2002 by declaring the state’s same-sex sodomy law as “appropriate.”
In 2005 he supported the state ballot proposition that defined marriage as only a union between a man and a woman, and in the same year in a speech in Fort Worth he suggested LGBT veterans returning from the Iraq War should find a more liberal state in which to live.
In his book — On My Honor, published in 2008 — Perry compared homosexuality to alcoholism, and he said LGBT people should practice abstinence. When Perry unsuccessfully campaigned for president in 2012, he criticized the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and he gave his support to a proposed federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide.
A former Eagle Scout, Perry advocated that the Boy Scouts of America continue its discrimination against gay Scouts and volunteer adult leaders.
In short, every chance he got as governor, Perry bashed LGBT people and their civil rights movement.
His stance took some people off guard because as a Democrat-turned-Republican politician, he never gave any indication as a candidate for the Texas Legislature, agriculture commissioner or lieutenant governor of his anti-gay views. His newly embraced, vocally anti-LGBT philosophy shocked me, too, when I finally learned about it.
I went to work as a staff writer for the Dallas Voice in 2001, the first year of Perry’s governorship. I had covered LGBT issues and AIDS for the mainstream and alternative media already. But it would be my first job covering LGBT issues exclusively.
I never dreamed I would be spending so much time writing about the Texas governor, whom I met as a young man when he was a Texas A&M cadet.
Perry’s anti-LGBT views surprised me because I know many of his friends from Haskell County from my early college days at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. That group includes a gay man, a lesbian and quite a few gay-friendly people.
I don’t think any of them share Perry’s views about homosexuality, but they do all regard him fondly and proudly.
I understand why they like Perry. When I met him, I thought he was one of the most handsome, charming and friendly people I had ever met. What a let down I have experienced during the past 14 years of watching him practice politics.
The most ironic part of my coverage of Perry is that he became the subject of a persistent rumor that he led a secret gay life prior to his marriage in 1982 in his early-30s to Anita Thigpen, and that he continued clandestine sexual relations with men during his entire political career.
Perry attempted to ignore the rumors, but they became so widespread that he finally addressed them when LGBT activists started holding “Come out of the closet, Rick” signs in front of the Texas Capitol. The first time the governor’s spokesman returned one of my phone calls for the Dallas Voice was to deny the governor was gay.
Gay former Texas Rep. Glen Maxey even wrote a book about the gay rumors concerning Perry named Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry.
A Texas Monthly editor called me during that time to ask me what I thought about the rumors. I had to tell the truth. I considered them to be far-fetched and a bit humorous. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and I still lived there in the early 1980s when Perry supposedly went to gay bars and drove and jogged the cruise route. If that had happened, I would have observed it.
In fact, I don’t really believe that Perry is as intolerant as his political rhetoric would suggest. He is a seasoned campaigner who knows what to say to keep his political base solidly behind him. Like many politicians, he will say whatever he considers necessary to get elected. Don’t forget how George W. Bush courted gay political leaders in Texas when he ran for president in 2000, then turned on them when he got in office.
That said, it’s good to see Perry go, even though his successor will likely be as bad if not worse on LGBT issues. At least I won’t continually be at odds with a group of good people who still consider him and his wife to be their hometown buddies.
David Webb is a veteran journalist with more than three decades of experience, including a stint as a staff reporter for Dallas Voice. He now lives on Cedar Creek Lake and writes for publications nationwide.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 7, 2014.