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Annise Parker's Political Ascendance a Step Toward Tolerance and Inclusion in Electoral Politics

by: Todd Hill

Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 01:00 PM CST

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.      

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Only a step (3.00 / 1)
We'll know full tolerance has arrived when we elect gay men or women without bothering to note their sexual orientation.

I fear... (0.00 / 0)
that's just not going to happen.  It will always continue and be an issue because it is an easy issue to make.  Particularly in partisan political elections.  But even in the case of Democrat versus Democrat (and technically non-partisan) with the Houston mayoral election, a Democrat didn't hesitate to go gutter politics on another Democrat.    

I think it is far more powerful a statement that sexual orientation does become an issue and the gay candidate is still able to overcome it---to the tune of 53% in Annise's case.  


"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

[ Parent ]
True, but in the mean time (0.00 / 0)
it isn't something that should be ignored when glass ceilings are broken.  For example no one notices anymore when African Americans are elected to Congress because it has been happening regularly for a long time now, but we did notice Obama because it was unprecedented.

We can't stop confronting it until it has been relegated to the dustbin of history by mainstream society.

"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."- James A. Baldwin

[ Parent ]
I agree. Houston had already done that. Maybe. (0.00 / 0)
Lots of people thought that Kathy Whitmire was gay. Perhaps she was the first gay mayor of Houston elected when no one bothered to note her orientation?  

[ Parent ]
Don't have an argument with much of what you say (0.00 / 0)
But I'd quibble with your last sentence. Here's my proposed version.

"[one of] the best thing[s] we can do is get members of our community elected."

Getting the general population comfortable with LGBT people is very important. After all, the number one indicator of whether people support gay marriage is whether they know any gay people (at least "out" ones). So, having prominent, succesful community leaders is critically important.

Because the LGBT community could never vote one of it's own members into office without the help of a whole lot of straight people, we also need to make sure to support politicians that are supportive of teh gya agenda. The best way to do that is to get them elected and reelected. And there are three parts to that (in reverse order of importance):

1) Give money
2) volunteer for supportive candidates
3) VOTE!!!!!

We could do better in all three areas. If you are an LGBT Texan and you DON'T vote, or follow politics, you have to ask yourself, "What the hell am I waiting for?"

Get active folks. Kick ass. Take names.

It's time.


Indeed... (0.00 / 0)
@DyspepTex, I actually revised my last sentence before you chimed in with your very good points.  

Thanks for making them. You are right that it takes more than getting LGBT members elected, it takes getting everyone, including allies, involved and staying involved.

I agree with you 100%.  


"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

[ Parent ]
Perhaps sexual orienatation (0.00 / 0)
will become less of a wedge issue.  It certainly is among younger, more educated and tolerant voters. Parker had the support of moderate Republicans in Houston most of whom were female. Annise is also a Rice alum and she had the backing of most if not all Rice alums in this area.  

Before the run-off election Parker's sexual orientation was never an issue.  As the city's comptroller everyone in the city knows she is openly gay.  

Locke's campaign got ugly during the final days prior to the run-off.  I personally received a couple of seriously offensive post cards in the mail as did thousands of other Houstonians that pointed to Parker's sexual orientation. My husband was so outraged that he said he would have voted for Parker, if he had not intended to, b/c of the disgusting post cards.

Tolerance and hope won over intolerance and hate.  Saturday night was truly an awesome night in Houston.    

Conservative support for Annise (0.00 / 0)
I post on a very conservative message board and this election came up, and the Houston residents said they voted for Annise because they said she's a fiscal conservative.

"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."- James A. Baldwin

[ Parent ]
Parker is a fiscal conservative (0.00 / 0)
But the conservatives would have never voted for her if they are intolerant of a candidate's sexual orientation.  This is a very huge deal. I suppose the conservatives found a rationale and comfort level with Parker's fiscal conservatism.  

[ Parent ]
Divide among the right (0.00 / 0)
I agree with you that it's a big deal.  I was clarifying that it wasn't just "moderate" Republicans.

There is a divide between right-wing anti-government conservatives and conservative-evangelical Republicans.  On this particular message the former is dominant (some are even libertarian in their social leanings), they almost all detest Mike Huckabee who is a spokesman of the latter.

Like with the Democrats that are different flavors of Republicans and sometimes it's an uneasy coalition.  I'm not sure if there's gonna be major divide on any issues, but it's an interesting thing to observe.

"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."- James A. Baldwin

[ Parent ]
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