Update: Excerpts of this blog were highlighted in an article on Time Magazines website.
Many gay activists across the United States are cheering the election of openly gay Mayor-Elect Annise Parker and her victory over Gene Locke in the Houston mayoral runoff–and rightfully so. As a gay man myself I find her election to be a stunning example of how one's resume, experience, and positive campaign can supersede ones' sexual orientation as motivating voters to elect an openly gay candidate. This is a very exciting step toward tolerance and inclusion of gay Americans as qualified choices for elected office.
What happens in Houston can't easily translate to what happens, let's say, in Maryland. Odd statement, wouldn't you think? Openly gay elected official in Texas and not in Maryland? My point is that I don't believe that Parker's victory gives life to wider LGBT agenda initiatives. But, I do believe that her election gives momentum toward qualified, experienced and politically savvy gay candidates running for public office. If you want to really make a mark, and move elements of the LGBT agenda forward, get members of our community elected into positions of political power.
There is much discussion each election cycle of how sometimes in some areas of our communities we often lack a “bench” from which to tap qualified candidates into running for higher office. In some cases we may have a “bench” to tap into, but that “bench” is hardly–lets say, diverse? In fact, it reminds you of a really, really white only country club. It's time that as we pursue diversity on our bench that the discussion of diversity not only include the color of ones' skin or even their gender, but also their sexual orientation.The Houston election results are not the first sign that the electorate will give consideration to an openly gay candidate for higher office. Fort Worth residents elected Joel Burns to the city council in 2007 to fill the vacancy left by then candidate for the state senate, Wendy Davis. Burns went on to run for re-election this year and proceeded to be one of the few candidates not to draw an opponent. Not only was Burns widely accepted by Fort Worth voters in 2007, he was popular and successful enough to have cleared a path toward re-election. For a community such as Fort Worth, shaken this year by the Rainbow Lounge incident, Burns has been a measured, steady, and experienced leader that has worked hard to bring communities together and move Cowtown forward.
Parker's victory in Houston, much like Burns in Fort Worth, is a sign that well qualified and experienced gay candidates can indeed be the choice of the majority of the electorate to hold elected office—particularly in areas one might think a gay candidate could not get elected in like Texas. That's a positive step toward tolerance and inclusion of gay candidates in electoral politics. Having said that, what that also means is that once elected, these candidates have to work twice as hard and be twice as effective in order to prove themselves worthy of the position they hold, and to mute critics who seek any sign to weaken their stature. Parker has a number of challenges ahead of her and she has acknowledged as much. That also means her opponents will have that many more opportunities to undermine her leadership. Her task is great, but if her campaign is any indication of her leadership qualities, political savviness, and overall effectivness she should be fine.
The fact remains though that if gay activists and allies wish to move elements of the LGBT agenda forward—elements such as anti-bullying legislation, tougher Hate Crime initiatives, repealing Don't ask Don't Tell at a national level, and even perhaps partnership unions, the best thing we can do is get members of our community elected. Putting a human face to these issues brings credibility to not only gay candidates as elected officials, but also gay elected officials transforming public opinion in favor of tolerating more LGBT initiatives.