Saturday, December 19, 2009

Houston Elects Lesbian Mayor

Annise Parker made history this month by becoming Houston’s first openly gay mayor, seizing 53.6 percent of the vote in the city’s hotly contested election. "This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Just as it is about transforming the lives of all Houstonians for the better, and that’s what my administration will be about," Parker told supporters after former city attorney Gene Locke conceded defeat.

Voters went to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 12, for a runoff election, which would decide whether Houston will become the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor. The runoff election pit City Controller Annise Parker against former city attorney Gene Locke.

Parker is a lesbian who has never made a secret or an issue of her sexual orientation. But in recent weeks, anti-gay activists and conservative religious groups have endorsed the 61-year-old Locke and sent out mailers condemning Parker’s "homosexual behavior."

Meanwhile, gay and lesbian political organizations around the country have rallied to support the 53-year-old Parker. Locke, who is black, was relying on a heavy turnout from black voters, but apparently the crucial suburban-ring Republican voters went toward Parker.

The gay-baiting mailers may in fact have backfired on Locke after it was revealed that some in his campaign were behind them. Houston, long known as a conservative bastion, has changed greatly in recent decades. The oil industry still dominates, but healthcare, NASA and other high-tech industries have brought an influx of young professionals. At the same time, the city has received a large influx of Hispanic immigrants and people who left New Orleans after Katrina -- all of which has probably added to Democratic voting rolls.

At her victory celebration, Parker’s partner, Kathy Hubbard, was prominently by her side. She acknowledged the historic nature of her victory. Many in the audience were gay but there were many others as well, reflecting the broad coalition she had managed to cobble together in the often-fractious sprawling metropolis of 2.2 million people.

Providence, R.I., has a gay mayor, as does Portland, Ore., The European capitals of Berlin and Paris have both had gay mayors. But this marks a major step for an American city of over 1 million people--as well as for lesbians (all the other mayors mentioned were gay men). There is one out-lesbian who is the head of government of an independent nation. Johanna Sigurdardottir is the premier of Iceland. It also has a deep significance for taking place in the largest city in Texas, normally known as a deep-red conservative bastion.

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