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Houston’s Lesbian Mayoral Candidate Gets Big Endorsement

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 23, 2009
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Two candidates for the office of Houston’s mayor will vie in a runoff election next month. One of them is openly lesbian three-term city controller Annise Parker, and she has won the endorsement of a major Houston newspaper.

"With city tax revenues eroded by the continuing recession, the next occupant of the office must be a prudent fiscal manager as well as a leader who can make hard decisions on spending priorities," read the Nov. 22 endorsement in the Houston Chronicle. "That will require a detailed knowledge of the city departments that deliver services to citizens in order to wisely prioritize cuts and stretch available revenues to the maximum.

"At the same time," the endorsement continued, "the new mayor must also be a visionary focused not just on how things are in Houston but how they should be in the coming decades. Despite a hostile economy, the incoming administration will have to continue improving the quality of life in our increasingly urbanized metropolis."

Before the general election, The Chronicle had endorsed by Parker and her runoff opponent, Gene Locke, who formerly served as Houston’s city attorney. Now that the two are running against one another, the paper chose to lend its support to Parker, saying that "Parker’s background and experience offer a better fit for the mayor’s office at this point in time."

Added the paper, "And our endorsement of Parker should not be taken as a diminution of the skills and qualifications of Locke, whose back story as a civil rights activist, steelworker and successful major law firm attorney offers a compelling narrative.

"Houstonians are lucky to face such a difficult choice," the Chronicle added.

"In both her public and personal life, Parker has maintained high ethical standards and decorum in her years as an elected official," noted the Chronicle. "No scandals have occurred on her watch. As mayor she will present the city’s best face to the world, one of tolerance, diversity and compassion for all our citizens."

Local anti-gay activists, however, took aim to Parker not on the grounds of experience, character, or qualifications, but because she is openly gay. As reported at EDGE Nov. 16, Parker’s sexuality is the main focus of a drive by anti-gay religious and social conservatives looking to convince voters not to support Parker at the ballot box. The campaign against Parker is founded in part on fears that if she becomes mayor she will oversee a repeal of a city charter provision that denies family benefits to gay and lesbian municipal employees. Anti-gay activists also warn of a "gay takeover" of the city’s government, noting the candidacy of two openly gay individuals running for city council.

Anti-gay activists posited that the aggression in the situation emanated from Parker herself: "The bottom line is that we didn’t pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign," Houston Area Pastor Council Executive Director David Welch claimed. The group is a driving force behind the attempt to sway voters to support Locke in next month’s election.

Parker, however, has characterized her candidacy as that of a qualified and experienced city politician, rather than that of a sexual minority. She has said that she doesn’t have a plan for redressing the city charter’s denial of family benefits to gays, though she also has said that "at some point" that policy will need correction.

But anti-gay activists painted Parker as a pawn for a larger national agenda. "National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity," Welch declared. "The reality is that’s because they’re promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family."

For his part, Locke has said that although he would have no immediate plans to repeal the anti-gay provision, doing away with it would make the city competitive with the private sector as far as attracting and retaining top-flight talent. However, with the emergence of the anti-gay push against Parker, Locke has seized the chance to portray himself as the candidate of choice, putting in an appearance at a Pastor Council’s event and meeting with local conservative leader Dr. Steven Hotze, the local power broker behind the so-called "Straight Slate," a group of city politicians who sought to unseat incumbents behind anti-discrimination policies in 1985. (The gay-friendly provisions were overturned by voter referendum; the incumbents, however, kept their seats.)

Parker also has the support of The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund a group dedicated to the election of qualified GLBT candidates for offices around the country.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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