Editors' note: Meghan Stabler is a nationally recognized spokesperson and activist for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and most importantly Transgender community. Meghan's leadership style and advocacy for LGBT equality is reflected in her positions as a member of AETNA Healthcare GLBT Advisory Board, Board member for AIDS Foundation Houston, President Obama's National LGBT Policy committee alumni, President of Pride Houston, HRC Steering committees' of Houston and Austin, HRC National Business Council and member of the National Board of Directors for the Human Rights Campaign. She also served on Senator and then President-Elect Obama's LGBT Policy Committee.
History continued to evolve Saturday night in Houston, TX. Annise Parker, City Controller and Mayoral candidate, won by garnering 52.8% of the votes casted.
Last week I stood in the City Hall where Harvey Milk was elected as City Supervisor in San Francisco and was the first openly gay candidate in any local election. Milk opened the doors for gay candidates and brought to the forefront the discrimination experienced by the gay community. Now the door opens a little further as Annise has become the second woman and first openly-gay mayor of Houston.
In a race where candidates attempted to side-step the issue of "orientation," the final few weeks leading up to the election was marked by fierce campaigning and anti-gay rhetoric. Parker is a lesbian who has never made a secret, or an issue, of her sexual orientation. But that orientation became focus of the race after anti-gay activists and conservative religious groups endorsed Locke and sent out mailers condemning Parker's "homosexual behavior."
This, despite Parker's leadership in Houston for many years as the City Controller. I've known Mayor-elect Parker for a couple of years and she is a fiscal conservative but most importantly to the citizens of Houston she is a good person that cares and "gets it". She was a hard-working member of the City Council and an even more tireless worker for Houston as the Controller.
While some will see her election win as a win based on her sexual orientation, I prefer to see it as her strong history of leadership within Houston and I predict that she will do a great job as Mayor of a city of over 2,000,000 people. To be fair to her opponent, Gene Locke had tried to distance himself from the anti-gay attacks while at the same time courting conservative voters who could likely tip the race in his favor. However in my mind "never the twain shall meet". Late in Locke's campaign it was revealed that some of his key supporters contributed money to a conservative political action committee that sent out an anti-gay mailer earlier this month, urging voters not to pick Annise and yet again placing the issue of orientation over the capability of a candidate to perform their job. Parker had never made a secret or an issue of her sexual orientation, bringing her long time partner Kathy to many events, and often being seen with their adopted children. But in the final few weeks of the race her orientation became a focus with anti-gay zealots and conservative religious groups endorsing Locke and sending out mailers condemning Parker's "homosexual behavior". Now, 31 years since the assassination of Harvey Milk, Houston is now the largest U.S. city ever to have an openly gay mayor. It is a proud day for anti-discrimination with the recognition of a candidates prior performance and capability over their orientation.
Yet the media outlets will not focus on that, instead they'll focus on Annise's "lifestyle". The headlines will be there with "Gay Mayor" as a title splash on the page for many days to come. As much as the media would like to spotlight on Annise as a Lesbian, I know that she would prefer to focus on the challenging work at her hands once she is sworn in as Mayor in just a few weeks. She will be faced with quite a balancing act that mirrors the heartbeat in all cities across the country right now; jobs, the city budget, and keeping Houston out of the recession.
During her acceptance speech in down town Houston Saturday night she said, "Here's the announcement you've been waiting for I am proud, very proud to be elected the first ...." The insinuation of her orientation was there and she continued, "the very first graduate of Rice University to be Mayor". It was a nice, tongue in cheek, statement quipping about the issues raised during the race. She continued, "Tonight the voters of Houston have opened history. I embrace that. I know what this means to many of us who never thought that we could achieve higher office". She was right to lament in the moment, in the history of her win, after all, the eyes of Houstonians, and America will now be firmly on her to deliver the goods and on her election promises for a better Houston. She wants to unite the community and close divisive issues once and for all saying, "I promise to give to citizens an administration of honesty, integrity and transparency, the only special interest will be the public. We are in this together."
As more and more Gay and Lesbian officials take office, and that more Transgender citizens do so too, I hope that we can be elected solely on our capability to perform the duties of office. I hope that we can erase the 'Orientation' and 'Gender' discussions from the ballot once and for all and I truly hope that it won't take another 30 years for us to do so. After all, Harvey Milk said it best over 30 years ago, "All over the country, they're reading about me, and the story doesn't center on me being gay. It's just about a gay person who is doing his job".
That holds just as true today for Annise and it did then for Harvey.