Houston voters made history Saturday
with their selection of Annise Parker, an openly lesbian candidate,
to serve as the city's 61st mayor.
“This election has changed the world
for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, just as
this election is about transforming Houstonians' lives for the
better,” Parker said in a statement released shortly after her
Houston becomes the largest city in the
nation to endorse an openly gay mayor. With a half-million
residents, Portland, Oregon previously held the title, electing
openly gay Mayor Sam Adams last year. Houston, however, only trails
behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Parker, 53, won Saturday's contest
after seizing 53.6 percent of the vote to best her opponent, Gene
Locke, an African-American lawyer and former city attorney. The
mayoral runoff pitted the two top vote-getters from a November
In its final lap, the contest became
heated with anti-gay rhetoric and accusations of election fraud.
Parker's candidacy was opposed by a
group of conservative ministers. The group of mostly black clergy
lead by Dave Welch, executive director of Houston Area Pastor
Council, said they were alarmed by the possibility of a “gay
takeover” of City Hall, which could lead to the reversal of a gay
partner benefits ban. Welch said a Parker win would lead to
promotion of “an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the
concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”
A mailer produced and bankrolled by
Dave Wilson, a 62-year-old sign company owner, also stirred up
homophobia in an effort to derail Parker. A flier featuring Parker
being sworn into office as city controller while her partner of 20
years, Kathy Hubbard, looks on with the caption, “Is this the image
Houston wants to portray?” was sent out to 35,000 households in
November. Wilson has said Parker should not be mayor because
“homosexual behavior leads to extinction.”
And accusations of violations of Texas
election laws surfaced after a Texas Ethics Commission filing by the
Conservative Republicans of Harris County (CRHC). The political
action committee has been active since the 90's and is known for
supporting anti-gay candidates and opposing gay rights.
The December 4 filing revealed that two
Locke staffers had donated a total of $40,000 to CRHC a week before
it produced a mailing that urged voters to reject Parker and several
other candidates because they were “endorsed by a gay lesbian
political action committee.” Parker supporters accused the Locke
campaign of coordinating with CRHC, which is illegal in Texas. Locke
has denied the claims.
& Lesbian Victory Fund, a group that supports gay candidates
across the nation, cheered the results, calling Parker's victory a
“watershed moment in American politics.”
“Annise was elected by fair-minded
people from across the city because of her experience and competence,
and we're glad Houston soundly rejected the politics of division,”
Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement.
“This victory sends a clear signal that gays and lesbians are an
integral part of American civic life, that we're willing to lead, and
that voters will respond to candidates who are open and honest about
Throughout the campaign, Parker refused
to directly respond to conservatives opposed to her candidacy based
on her sexual orientation. Ignoring the attacks was clearly a
strategy to keep Parker from becoming the “gay candidate,” but it
might have also backfired in a state where conservative values remain
strong, including opposition to gay rights.
Parker's win comes on the heels of
another historic victory for the gay and lesbian community. On
California Assembly's Democratic Caucus unanimously agreed to select
Assemblyman John Perez, an openly gay Latino Democrat from Los
Angeles, to become the state's next Assembly speaker. A formal
election is expected in January, but united behind a single
candidate, Democrats, who hold a large majority in the chamber, do
not need GOP support.
Parker will take office in January.