Parker: I Consider Myself a Role Model
Equality Forum honored Houston Mayor Annise Parker at its annual dinner in Philadelphia on May 5.
She received a prolonged standing ovation at the National American Museum of Jewish History after she accepted the International Role Model Award. Parker, who attended the dinner with her partner of 22 years, Kathy Hubbard, told EDGE earlier in the evening that she does considers herself a role model. She co-founded Rice University’s LGBT student group in 1979, and she was president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 1986. Parker said she has been a public spokesperson for the Bayou City’s LGBT community for "a very long time."
"I hope that I’ve been a good [role model] over the years," she said, referring to the Equality Forum award as Hubbard sat next to her.
Parker’s victory against fellow Democrat Gene Locke in the Dec. 2009 mayoral run-off election made Houston the largest city in the country with an openly LGBT mayor. Her previous City Council and comptroller campaigns had gone largely unnoticed, but the amount of attention that her 2009 election received outside of the Bayou City came as a surprise.
"I had been out for so long: I was an out public official for 12 years in Houston citywide," said Parker, who won an at-large City Council seat in 1997. She became Houston’s comptroller in 2003. "Suddenly the world paid attention when I became mayor and I was surprised."
Parker said she received an onslaught of media requests to "talk about the gay issue" during the first months of her tenure as mayor. "We managed that; did it where it was appropriate," she said. "[We] tried not to be the poster child for the gay community because my first job is running the city of Houston."
She won re-election last year, and Parker has begun to use her prominence as the mayor of the country’s fourth largest city to further advance marriage for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues. She co-chairs a coalition of more than 200 mayors who support nuptials for same-sex couples. Parker joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and others at a press conference at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., in January that officially unveiled the campaign.
Her activism on this issue has sparked what she described as a "surprising amount of backlash in Houston."
Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church in February called upon Parker to resign. His roughly 15,000-member congregation is one of the country’s largest mega churches, but the mayor has brushed aside calls for her to step down.
"[Houston voters] elected me knowing that I’m a lesbian and just as I consider myself a role model for the LGBT community, I also consider myself a role model for women in office," said Parker. "I have a certain standard to uphold as mayor of Houston, so I’m always conscious of my public behavior and I try to act in such a way that I will represent all of those categories."
Parker spoke to EDGE two days after Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie and 10 other state Democratic Party chairs endorsed a proposal that would add marriage equality to the party’s 2012 platform. The mayor said she supports the proposed platform plank. She remains less certain about whether the party will adopt it during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in early September.
"Democrats are all over the map on that issue, but I think there’ll be a vigorous discussion," said Parker. "I’m not going to be concerned if it doesn’t pass. It’ll pass the next time."
Parker: Federal Government Will Ultimately Have to "Sort Out" Marriage
She told a group of LGBT bloggers and journalists who gathered in Houston late last month that she would be "shocked" to see President Barack Obama endorse marriage for same-sex couples before the general election. Parker further stressed to EDGE that nuptials for gays and lesbians is an issue that the federal government will ultimately have to decide.
"Most of the states have suffered a wave of-including Texas-of anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives which I think were deliberately orchestrated by Karl Rove and as part of a national Republican strategy. And they were successful," she said. "Now we have states with anti-gay marriage constitutional amendments and states that allow gay marriage. That automatically means the federal government at some point will have to sort that out under the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution."
Parker also said that lawmakers and not the president should act on a proposed ban on federal contractors from discriminating against their LGBT employees. "There are things that I believe are the purview of the president and I think there are things that are a purview of the legislative branch," she said, noting she has faced similar challenges during her tenure. "That kind of step which affects private employers ought to be something that the legislature does-that’s not the president."
Parker added she feels it is natural for activists and others to question Obama’s record on LGBT rights.
"We step into the arena, we’re fair game," she said. "People rate us on any number of issues. What’s important is you add up the two presidential candidates on a range of issues and virtually any LGBT issue I can think of-actually every LGBT issue I can think of-President Obama has a better position, even if he sometimes disappoints, than Mitt Romney and the Republican Party."
Parker said she would consider a CEO or administrative position once she leaves office at the end of her third term if she decides to seek re-election. For the time being, she remains happy in City Hall.
"I love being mayor," said Parker. "I’d rather be mayor than any other job."