Congratulation Annise Parker-Times are Changing, Houston is Changing, Texas is Changing

 By now the country and the rest of the world knows about the historic victory garnered by former Houston comptroller Annise Parker to become Houston’s next mayor.  Parker who is openly gay and has been with her partner for over 19 years made history on a couple of fronts. First Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay candidate. Second, she manged to do it in the state of Texas which has always been dinged for being ground zero for ultra conservative views. Third, Parker won in spite of a last minute anti-gay smear campaign that was launched by two key supporters of her opponent Gene Locke

The first missives came from longtime operative Dave Wilson who donated money to Locke’s campaign and then put out 35 thousand mailers that showed Parker standing with her partner Kathy Hubbard and a headline that read ‘Is this the image Houston wants to Portray?”. The rest of the text was beyond insulting as it expressed support and compassion for gays and lesbians, but said they were trapped in ‘homosexual behavior’. Calling one’s sexuality a behavior is akin to calling one’s ethnic background ignorant or inferior.  Wilson has a long history of such imflammatory rhetoric  that is steeped in religious beliefs and had no intention of backing off. Locke disappointed folks by not harshly denoucing him. He kind of played both sides of the fence, by being a bit coy in hopes of tapping into Wislon’s supporters while publicly stating he was a candidate of all Houstonians and pointing to a track record that showed he was in support of gay rights.  Here’s the text.

“I have nothing but compassion, respect and sensitivity towards those trapped in homosexual behavior. I have family members and friends who have been ensnared in this behavior, and I know something of the incredible pain and sorrow it has brought to them and their families. With God’s grace, I carefully balance this love and respect for these individuals with warnings about the promotion and demand for legal and political approval for homosexual behavior that will stifle religious freedom and trap millions of more people in its deadly grip. Therefore, I would ask you to vote against Annise Parker for Mayor.”

This hit piece put the Houston race in the national spot light as articles about the anti-gay turn made everything from the New York Times to columns within the blogosphere. And just as the Wilson saga was picking up steam, another conservative anti-gay crusader Steven Hotze came out and endorsed Locke after he had went and sought his support.  This more was bad move… The end result was Parker winning  and in many ways a rejection of anti-gay sentiment.

Does this mean that Houston becomes the Gay capital of the US? Does this mean that Parker will only be championing Gay Rights? This is what the anti-gay campaign tried to imply as it attempted to not only overshadow that Parker is a qualified individual who has keen grasp on a number of issues and can run a big city like Houston, but it also suggested that standing up for equal rights was somehow wrong. It overshadowed that Parker like Locke has said they would govern for all Houstonians  gays and straights.

To the degree that Parker’s  victory may symbolize a big step forward for a population of people who feel the brunt of discrimination especially in the areas of not being allowed to be legally married as is the case here in Texas, should be seen in a positive light. It should be celebrated the same way her victory can be inspiration for women to who can now point to a large city like Houston and see Parker at the helm. It should be embraced the same way millions of us as African-Americans took pride in Barack Obama becoming President or the same way millions of Latinos looked to Sonia Sotomayor as a heroine for being appointed to the sit on the Supreme Court.

On another level there’s still alot of ground to cover in terms of gay rights. State after state has rejected the notion of gay marriage when put to voters, including ultra progressive states like California and even new York which had its lawmakers reject it. Thats still a big sting for folks in gay communities. There’s also the religious aspect which lots of people like Wilson point to as their justification. Many in these circles see being gay as a sin and thus they feel its important to speak out.  And even though many of these religious folks don’t aggressively campaign against candidates who transgressed and committed sins in other areas like having premarital sex, eating shellfish, pork etc, its hard to argue with one who wraps him/herself in a religious belief. The only thing one can do is take steps to make sure that one’s religious practices don’t enforce discriminatory laws, which the anti-gay marriage laws does.  It sadly doesn’t stop people from voting in particular direction.

However, times are changing. Houston is changing. Texas is changing. We saw this Saturday night when the anti-gay rhetoric was not only rejected, but it didn’t even park a huge out pouring support. People are understanding discrimination is wrong.

Congratulations to Annise Parker, hopefully we can now judge her by what she does for Houstonians in terms of policy and what she advocates for and not who she has as a companion.  

If there’s an issue that all elected officials in Houston should be concerbed about is how and why there was such low voter turnout for such an important position. Thats an issue that folks should be looking at..because that speaks volumes. We’ll save that for another column.

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