Perry, Parker Gain National Spotlight in 2011
Two Texans garnered national attention in 2011, but for entirely different reasons.
Houston once again made history in November when it became the first major American city to re-elect an openly LGBT mayor without a run off. Mayor Annise Parker is the first LGBT mayor of a major American city.
With great contrast, the other Texan is Gov. Rick Perry. The Republican presidential campaign’s "Strong" commercial that appeared on Iowa television stations earlier this month was widely spoofed on YouTube and Facebook. "You know there’s something wrong when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas in schools," said Perry.
It didn’t take long for screen shots of the candidate to appear on social media with a purple Teletubby imposed in the background. Another showed the candidate dressed as a cowgirl.
While there was clearly fun to be had with the ad, Perry’s anti-LGBT rhetoric and specifically his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples is no laughing matter.
Religious groups criticized Perry’s Day of Prayer in Houston in August because of its lack of inclusiveness. LGBT groups and others rallied outside Reliant Stadium to protest organizers’ decision to collaborate with the American Family Association, a Christian group that promotes conservative positions on moral issues. The AFA has also urged supporters to boycott what it calls the "homosexual agenda."
"We don’t like that they try to pray us away," said GetEqual Texas and Austin resident Michael Diviesti at the time. "AFA has put money behind backing political figures that would fight against marriage equality."
Perry announced his presidential campaign on Aug. 13. He quickly rose to the top of national polls, but he slid after a series of poor debate performances and highly publicized gaffes.
Perry remains a candidate as the year draws to a close, but his chances of securing the Republican presidential nominated appear increasingly elusive. That’s particularly apparent in the court of public opinion, which may be reflected in the general election. A recent Benenson Strategy Group poll indicates more than 50 percent of Americans support marriage equality, with a dramatic increase in recent months.
Dallas, Austin Rank Among Country’s Gayest Cities
This year we also learned that Dallas and Austin are among cities with the largest population of same-sex couples in the country.
Dallas ranked 19 on the list of 20 cities that demographer Gary Gates developed. Austin ranked seven, behind Sacramento, Calif. The census, however, places Dallas with the most same-sex couples in Texas-with 6,876, higher than its southern neighbor. Austin has 4,685 same-sex couples, while the census recorded 67,413 same-sex couples in the state.
Dallas has 15.1 same sex couples per 1,000 residents, which is twice the rate of Texas as a whole. This percentage is also higher than that found in Chicago and other larger cities.
Those numbers may have weighed in the Dallas Morning News’ July decision to publish same-sex wedding announcements. The Houston Chronicle had already begin the practice, while the Fort Worth Star Telegram does not.
"We are very happy to see the Dallas Morning News take a step dozens and dozens of other papers around the country have already taken, which is leading this change and recognizing that even though their state doesn’t recognize marriage equality, other states do, and respecting that," said Aaron McQuade, deputy director of news and field media for Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Also on the equality front, county-run Parkland Hospital announced in September that it would begin providing domestic partner benefits to employees. The hospital’s Board of Managers voted 6-0 to approve a proposal that reports indicate has been on the burner for years. One board member abstained from voting, but the vote means that the hospital will offer domestic partner benefits to gays and lesbians who are among the system’s 9,400 employees.
Texans Increasingly Support Relationship Recognition for Same-Sex Couples
Hundreds of LGBT leaders and hopeful elected officials assembled in Houston earlier this month for the Victory Fund’s International Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference sponsored by the Victory Fund.
Denis Dison, vice president of communications at the Victory Fund, said the Houston gathering was the largest conference to date in terms of the number of panels and workshops. The organization’s work is reflected in the roughly 500 elected LGBT officials and an additional 100 appointees across the country.
Parker herself attended, but the event provided the opportunity to highlight the significant strides that out LGBT elected officials have made over the years. While Perry may send one message about Texas into the national political discourse, it would seem that the Lone Star State is sending another. It’s not just Dallas and Houston; but Frisco, Little Elm, Pearland and other smaller cities and town have elected LGBT candidates.
Moreover, Texans in 2005 overwhelmingly approved Proposition 5 that banned nuptials for gays and lesbians, but a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in May found for the fifth time that a solid majority of voters support legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they support either marriage or civil unions for gays and lesbians
"In 2005 people didn’t understand Proposition 5 was about extending a freedom," said Diviesti. "People went to the voting booth with the idea their families would suffer. Seeing the debate on the national level, Texans are realizing people are being hurt by not having marriage equality."