Guest Blogger

From Milk to Parker, Beyond Gay

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 13, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Annise Parker, bisexual, Harvey Milk, HRC, lesbian, mayor, transgender

Editors' note: Meghan_SFO_Gala.jpgMeghan 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.

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Houston....right there, inside of God's Own once and future(?) republic.

What a statement, on so many levels.

Wull Church Norris boycott the city now that it has a graduate of Rice University as mayor?

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 13, 2009 4:54 PM

Its fantastic that Annise was elected mayor of Houston. It makes me proud of my hometown. More importantly, Annise will do an amazing job running the city.

The anti-gay attack pieces by Gene Locke's supporters late in the campaign clearly backfired. My hope is going forward candidates will focus on the issues and not try to win by whipping up bigotry and homophobia.

Of course, Ms. Stabler means well, but I've never believed good intentions absolve one of his/her responsibility to have their facts right. And that she has so many wrong is inexcusable in someone with such "credentials." If this represents the pool from which Mr. Obama is drawing advice, one can better understand why his truckload of promises to LGBTs is stuck in a ditch. If that sounds a bit impolite, well, imagine how gay pioneers feel when their lives are erased by such commentaries as that above. Having been fortunate enough to know a number of them personally, I cannot remain silent.

With all due respect to his many real accomplishments, Harvey Milk was NOT the “first openly gay candidate in any local election”—not even in San Francisco. The person deserving credit for both of those firsts is Jose Sarria who ran for the SF Board of Supervisors in 1961, but lost...TWELVE YEARS BEFORE MILK FIRST RAN! At that time, the only thing "gay activism" meant to Harvey was sex.

THEN, in 1971, [TWO YEARS before Milk first ran] Frank Kameny ran for DC Delegate to the US Congress, also losing. [In 1965, when Kameny was leading pickets of the White House for gay rights, Milk was still a Republican grieving the fact that arch conservative Barry Goldwater was not President. Was "Obama's LGBT Policy Committee" the reason he erroneously gave the first Presidential Medal of Freedom to a gay activist to Milk instead of Kameny?]

IN 1974, out lesbian Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Council. Milk, who was, by then, no longer a closeted Republican, had run for SF Supervisor in 1973 but it wasn’t inspired as much to advance gay rights as it was by his being pissed that he was forced to prepay a business tax on his camera store.

THE PERSON who “opened the doors for gay candidates” in a national sense was, again, NOT Milk but Elaine Noble who won election in 1974 [THREE YEARS before Harvey] to represent her Boston area district in the state legislature. Her public role in advancing gay rights was met with such violent vitriol [some from other gays] that she could well have also been our first political martyr.

SHE INSPIRED Minnesota state senator Allen Spear to come out the same year. He was then reelected in 1976 [ONE YEAR before Harvey was elected], and repeatedly, thereafter, serving almost thirty years and as the state senate’s president for nearly a decade.

Therefore, the only FACTUAL characterization in this regard is that Harvey Milk was "the first NON-INCUMBENT out gay man elected to office" ... or "first out gay elected to a MAJOR city office."

HOWEVER, NEITHER was he the first to bring “to the forefront the discrimination experienced by the gay community.” That, per Milk’s own biographer, Randy Shilts, was Leonard Matlovich whose outing himself to the Air Force to fight the military ban resulted in unprecedented, continued national and local coverage of the fight for gay rights, including widespread national and local TV news coverage, the front pages of “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post,” and the cover of “TIME.” That was 1975...TWO YEARS before anyone outside of San Francisco had heard of Milk other than family and friends. The same year, three shots were fired into Matlovich's house in the middle of the night, and, like Noble, he received multiple written and telephone death threats. He was also the first, not Milk, to suggest a gay march on Washington.

TWO MONTHS before Milk was assassinated, NBC broadcast the first made-for-TV movie about a living gay person, “Sgt. Matlovich vs. the US Air Force.”

There are many upon whose shoulders Harvey Milk stood, including lesbian pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and others who received national attention before he did. The Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches in 1968 also deserves credit as does former professional football player Dave Kopay who, in 1975, brought the issue of gays in sports out. All shared credit for helping defeat the 1978 Briggs Initiative that some believe Milk single-handedly stopped.

And, while the exceptional Ms. Parker, who stands upon the shoulders of all of these, is likely to succeed at the goal, contrary to Harvey’s self-description, media attention to him prior to his assassination centered entirely upon his being gay.

Anyone interested in not getting their LGBT history from hagiographic movies might consult Shilts' three books as well as well as "Out & Proud" among several others.

Thank you.

Michael, I'm glad you wrote about the facts of our history in your post, rightfully with due raw emotion. I lifted my head from the sand of my current Mom medical emergency that has kept me from reading or writing anything for a week to begin writing to my friend Meghan about the missings in her missive, but you got much of it captured. So now I need not focus on that.

It speaks to why things like the LGBT History Project in Boston and other LGBT History Projects in other parts of our country are so important.

While many of us who lived through those times in the '60s and '70s and since recall what occurred because it touched us then, there are many people who have entered our community later and didn't have to live the pain of our history year by year as it happened but rather seized with vigor the parts that get spoken loudly, correctly or not.

There are so many good references for our history, and the memories of people such as yourself are among the richest -- people's lives affected by what happens in one time that becomes history in the future, so to speak.

Please know that President Obama's LGBT Policy Advisory Committee, of which I was also a member, had plenty of us -- we who earned our gray hairs by being part of the community for decades with the scars and trauma to bear it out.

While I don't begrudge people for trying to say what they believe is true, I do urge us all to take the time to embrace and support LGBT History programs and projects across America so that the facts of our lives reflect how our history will be recalled later.

In the absence of Out/Write, for those of us who recall that -- the short-lived but very important National LGBT Writers Conference, we are pressed to remember the value of people and programs that have the skill and discipline to record our history because it matters now and will more later.

Thanks again, and knowing Meghan as I do, I am sure that her intent was to relay her in-the-moment joy about Annise's successful election bid in a Top 5 U.S. city, which remains distinct and historic. Let's not lose sight of that while we correct other things. It was nice to read in your post all of the names of people I recall and many of whom I knew and know.

I'm going to disappear again for another week, but in this moment, I wanted to say thank you and know that most people mean well, including Meghan.

Thank you for your very kind comments, Diego, and thanks to both you and Meghan for all you've done, and for your own mutual appreciation of maintaining, and telling, our rich history which I believe is not just a matter of respect to get right but empowering. [I left out that there are many transgender shoulders, too.]

Just minutes ago, I had the joy of winning an eBay auction for the personal scrapbook of one of our pioneers, or, more likely, his partner as the papers of the former, I know, were given to a major university. After I read it and scan the contents of particular interest to me, I'll be donating it to an LGBT historical society.

Having been the sole caretaker for a Mother with Alzheimer's, my hand is on your heart for whatever you're going through. I wish both you and her peace. [At least one study showed that gays disproportionately care for aging parents more than their nongay siblings.]

"Remember your roots, your history, and the forebears' shoulders on which you stand."
- Marion Wright Edelman

Meghan, what a great piece and a great take! I'm so glad to see your work here! I'm such a big fan!

I long for the day when we no longer celebrate the sexual orientation of a winning political candidate. While it's an important milestone in our community's history, it shouldn't even be a factor.

And for the Houstonians who voted for Annise of all ethnic groups, it wasn't.

Now she and we have to do our part to ensure she stays there for at least six years.

Good short (Readers Digest type) history of lgbt political candidates. What all journalists and academics need is a short list/timeline of each profession and the glbt people, such as journalism, starting with the editors of ONE Magazine and founders, one of whom is still alive and living in the Four Corners region) including those already honored in the lgbt journalists' Hall of Fame Don Slater(as are Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. And the legal pioneers, starting again with ONE, covered in the great book, Courting Justice, by Deb Price and Joyce Murdoch. And education, starting with ONE's Institute, and Dorr Legg and Jim Kepner.

And in Hoston, credit the groundwork of people such as Ray Hill.