In response to questions about anti-gay votes a decade ago, Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) said he’s evolved on LGBT issues and now supports full equality.
Turner, a leading progressive candidate for Houston mayor, voted in favor of a ban on gay foster parents in 2005. He also voted in favor of a statutory ban on same-sex marriage in 2003. He was present but did not vote on the resolution that placed the 2005 anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot.
“I think many Americans, if not most Americans, have evolved over the last 10 years on LGBT issues, and I include myself in that group, along with President Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton and so many others,” Turner said. “People evolve, and I think that’s what we want people to do.”
Turner said he now fully supports both the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, and same-sex marriage.
He pointed to a bill he authored in this year’s session calling for a study on homeless youth, up to 40 percent of whom are believed to be LGBT. He also said he was active in helping to defeat anti-LGBT proposals, and he earned a grade of “A+” from Equality Texas for the 84th Legislature.
However, Turner received a “D” from Equality Texas in 2013, after voting against a proposal to gather statistics on bullying incidents based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He also missed a vote on a pro-LGBT youth suicide prevention bill. He voted in favor of a similar anti-bullying amendment this year.
“What I would hope is that people would assess my track record over my entire political career and look at where, for example, I am today, and what I’ve brought to the table today in terms of my advocacy on LGBT issues,” Turner said.
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), another candidate for mayor and a longtime LGBT ally, said he believes Turner’s record on gay rights shows a lack of consistency.
“I think many of us evolved on the issue of marriage equality,” said Bell, a one-time board member for Equality Texas. “There are certain issues that weren’t marriage equality that were just basically trying to address outright discrimination, and that’s a course of a different color.”
As a member of the 108th Congress from 2003 until 2005, Bell voted against a federal anti-gay marriage amendment, and received a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign.
Maverick Welsh, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said it’s critical that the city replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker—the first out mayor of a major US city—with someone who’s supportive of the community. Among other things, the city is still defending the Equal Rights Ordinance in court.
Thanks to a spike in activism due to the battle over the ordinance, Welsh said the caucus’ membership has grown from 67 to upward of 350 in the last few years, in addition to a mailing list of 40,000 households. The caucus has started screening candidates and will vote on its endorsements Aug. 8.
“This fight isn’t over just because we have marriage or just because HERO passed,” Welsh said. “The other side is obsessed with these issues and is never going to go away.”
Other mayoral candidates expected to receive significant LGBT support include former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Councilman Steve Costello.