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By Lisa Keen
Annise Parker has been an out lesbian public official in Houston for 12 years.
Yet, this year, as she stands poised to become mayor of the fourth largest city in the country, her sexual orientation is an issue.
KHOU Channel 11 News in Houston reported Nov. 19 that a Houston man is circulating thousands of his own flyers to oppose Parker for mayor simply because she is a lesbian. That one-man campaign joins an effort by local church associations releasing statements saying Parker would not be a “proper role model” as mayor.
Early voting begins Monday, Nov. 30, and the final ballot box vote is Dec. 12 for the city’s mayoral race.
Parker and Locke finished first and second in a seven-way race Nov. 3. In that first round of voting, Parker won 53,919 (31 percent) votes to Locke’s 43,974 (25 percent). With a total of 175,000 votes cast, Parker and Locke must now win over as many of the 77,000 votes cast for other candidates as possible.
One of those losing candidates, City Councilmember Peter Brown, who came in third with 39,456 votes, endorsed Parker Nov. 10. But some of Brown’s supporters in the African-American clergy community announced they would not follow his lead and said, instead, they would back Locke, who is African American.
But Parker’s real opposition at this point appears to be people who don’t like gays, period. And some of them are claiming that Parker’s candidacy – along with that of two other openly gay people running for the 14-member city council – are staging a “gay takeover” of Houston.
Longtime political activist Sue Lovell is running for re-election to the council; Lane Lewis is making his first bid for public office.
A survey for KHOU of 500 registered and likely voters this month showed 37 percent planning to vote for Parker, 34 percent for Locke, and 21 percent undecided. (Margin of error: +/- 4.4).
Interestingly, a survey of Houston residents released in May by Rice University showed “Every measure of support for gay rights has increased significantly in recent years.” According to that survey, “The belief that homosexuality is ‘morally wrong’ decreased from 59 percent in 1997 … to 46 percent in this year’s survey.”
Dave Wilson apparently didn’t read that survey. He’s the local man who is waging a one-man campaign against Parker because she’s gay. Wilson led a successful campaign in 2001 to amend the city charter to ban employee benefits for the same-sex partners of city employees. Now he’s printed up 35,000 postcards to distribute to Houston residents to oppose Parker.
On one side of the postcard is a photo of Parker being sworn in as city controller, the job she currently holds, with her partner in life, Kathy Hubbard, looking on. The headline asks, “Is this the image Houston wants to portray?” The text says he has compassion toward those “trapped in homosexual behavior.” While he loves and respects such persons, he says he must warn against “the promotion and demand for legal and political approval for homosexual behavior.” Such approval, he says, will “stifle religious freedom and trap millions of more people in its deadly grip.”
On the address side of the card the headline says, “Just because Annise Parker is a lesbian doesn’t make her qualified to be Mayor of Houston.”
In an interview on KHOU, Wilson said societies that embrace homosexuality are “doomed for extinction.” His aim, he said, is to “energize the conservative Christian base and get them out to vote.”
A spokesperson for Parker suggested Parker’s opponent, Locke, has been meeting in secret with Wilson and others who oppose Parker because of her sexual orientation.
Locke has been campaigning to the House Area Pastor Council, the group making its own anti-gay attack on Parker, as well as other anti-gay activists in the city. Beginning in September, a group calling itself “Christians for Better Government” sent out a press release urging that Parker’s being gay was “not the proper role model” to lead Houston because, among other things, it means “she doesn’t believe in God.”
But Locke said he “vehemently” rejected the attack on Parker, saying the message in the Council’s press release was “reprehensible.”
Houston’s daily newspaper, the Chronicle, ran a tough editorial Nov. 14, criticizing the “band of socially conservative activists and ministers” for trying to inject “intolerance” into the race.
“While Parker has never made a secret of her sexuality,” said the editorial, “the campaign debate and agenda to date have been wholly defined by the issues facing the city and the comparative qualifications and experience of the candidates.”
Meanwhile, Parker is campaigning with a focus on fiscal caution – a caution that, ironically, puts her in a wait-and-see position on the issue of domestic partnership benefits for city employees, while Locke says he’s for them now.
The Chronicle says it sees little difference between the candidates.
Parker, 53, and Hubbard have been together since 1990 and have two children. Locke, 62, is married to Aubrey Sampson Locke and they have five children.
Neither candidate lists gay civil rights as an issue on their campaign Web sites.
Parker is seen as a cautious fiscal conservative, more interested in cutting spending than raising taxes. Locke is seen as more focused on improving the economy through investments in new business opportunities.
One longtime Houston conservative blogger, David Jennings, blamed the anti-gay campaign on the enthusiasm of Parker’s gay supporters.
“On election night,” he wrote in a Nov. 16 blog, “the (Parker campaign) Twitter feed was like watching a gay pride parade. No mention at all of her qualifications, just her homosexuality. Combined with her early years as a gay activist, it is easy to see why social conservatives would hesitate to support her.”
But the truth, said Jennings, is that Parker “has not pushed a ‘gay agenda’ during her political years.” He urged a vote for her.
The gay newspaper Dallas Voice noted that Parker, unlike Locke, released her tax returns, and those of Hubbard, to the press. The paper noted that some criticized the move as her attempt to present her and her domestic partner “as a married couple.”