Even a journalist with a well-honed knack for cynicism can sometimes be lured into false optimism. It happened to me last week, when the Observer published my editorial about heartening and surprising—though far from complete—evidence of a trend away from the virulent anti-gay sentiments that have so long flourished in Texas. One of my main examples was the Houston mayor’s race, in which City Controller Annise Parker, an unashamedly public lesbian, is headed into a December runoff against former civil-rights activist Gene Locke. I noted that, leading up to the initial election on Nov. 3, Parker’s sexuality had been a “resounding non-issue.” I pointed out that Locke, who finished second to Parker in a crowded field, had reacted thusly to an anti-gay attack on Parker that landed in thousands of Houstonians’ email boxes: “I vehemently reject this so-called ‘endorsement.’ … Furthermore, as a church-going Christian, I reject any association with this bogus and divisive style of campaigning.” (The email message turned out to be a fake.) That was then. As the Houston Chronicle reported on Friday, anti-gay venom has now been injected into the mayor’s race. And Locke is encouraging it. With Parker favored to win the December runoff, and two openly gay contenders still in the running for City Council seats, “Christian” extremists in Houston have launched a campaign to derail what they call a “gay takeover.” The hatemonger-in-chief of the Houston Area Pastor Council, which claims to include more than 200 senior pastors, is a fellow named Dave Welch. He told the Chronicle that his group would be encouraging voters, partly through mailers, to reject Parker because she is gay. He also violated one of the Ten Commandments with a big old whopping lie: “The bottom line is that we didn’t pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign.” Parker has done no such thing. What she has done, from her first City Council campaign in 1997 onward, is be matter-of-factly honest with voters about her sexuality. Her campaign literature makes it clear that she has a long-term partner and three adopted children with her. Beyond that, the fictional and shadowy “gay agenda” has played no role in her previous campaigns, or in her run for mayor. Parker is a solid, even somewhat dull, public servant who’s campaigned on the basis of her record of fiscal conservatism as controller, and her plans for such “radical” things as green-energy jobs and improved public transportation. But merely being honest about one’s sexuality constitutes a war cry in the eyes of Houston’s leading homophobes. Of course, there’s nothing new or especially surprising about that. What is stunning is the role that Locke, Houston’s former city attorney, is now opportunistically playing in this campaign of intolerance. Soon after the election, Locke appeared at the Pastor Council’s annual gala, where he was encouraged to beat the anti-gay drums by Republican state Senator and right-wing radio talker Dan Patrick. The Chronicle reports that Locke has also “met with and sought the endorsement of Dr. Steven Hotze, a longtime local kingmaker in conservative politics and author of the Straight Slate in 1985, a coterie of eight City Council members he recruited who ran on an anti-gay platform.” Locke is not just endorsing the kind of anti-gay rhetoric that leads to hate violence. He’s also staking himself out as a hypocrite. In an October debate, Locke called for overturning a city charter amendment that bars Houston from extending benefits to city employees’ domestic partners. Parker, in the same debate, said she had “no current plans” to do that. Locke appeared, then, to be even more “virulently pro-gay” than his lesbian opponent. So Locke now looks like a liar and a bigot to boot. A man who’s been the object of prejudice himself, as an African-American, might be expected to know better—and act better. One thing’s for sure: I’ll know better in the future than to prematurely celebrate the shriveling up of anti-gay prejudice in Texas. It’s here, it’s clear. But I’m sure as hell not going to get used to it.
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