Despite a lack of movement towards equal rights on the national political stage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Americans (Where are you Democratic Liberals and Progressives when we need you?), there are three important LGBT gains as we enter 2010.
Houston, America’s fourth largest city, elected native daughter and Rice University graduate Annise Parker, its second female mayor. While that may not seem particularly newsworthy, there was actually a remarkable “first” connected to her victory: Parker is a Lesbian! Despite a light turnout, she defeated local attorney Gene Locke by receiving a solid 53% of the vote. Announced The Houston Chronicle, “Parker becomes the second woman to become mayor of Houston and the first lesbian to head a major American city.”
Parker ran as a fiscal conservative and focused on her experience in urban financial matters including 12 years as a Houston council member and city controller. She neither denied nor hid her sexual orientation. To his credit, Locke refused to participate in anti-gay campaign smears even after some religious groups sent out mailers condemning her. According to Denise Penn of the Los Angeles-based Lesbian News, the oldest Lesbian publication in the country, “They were fearful that Parker would repeal the city charter rule that denies benefits to the partners of LGBT city employees if she were elected.”
The newly-elected Mayor was sworn in Monday, January 4, and was joined on the stage by five former mayors who, according to the Chronicle, “… in each of their own ways, advanced the progress of our urban commonwealth.” Contributing the swearing-in’s opening prayer was the Reverend Joel Osteen. Osteen heads Houston’s Lakewood Church, one of America’s megavangelical sports-stadium-churches where up to 45,000 people worship each week. Parker’s vow that became her campaign trademark: “I do love this city,” evidently successfully overpowered Reverend Osteen’s frequent utterances that “homosexuality is not God’s best.” “No one of us has all the answers, and all voices must be heard,” she told the audience. “We rise or we fall together, we succeed or we fail together.”
Earlier, on election night, when news of her success was broadcast, Parker appeared with her partner, Kathy Hubbard, at a rally and told supporters: “I know what this means to many of us who thought we couldn’t achieve higher office. But let us at this moment join as one community. We are united in making Houston the city it should be, could be, can be and will be.”
Denise Penn confirmed, “Parker has a life partner of nearly 20 years, Kathy Hubbard. The couple has a son and two daughters.”
Congrats to this superbly qualified American woman!
Transgender Presidential Appointee
Meanwhile, on the transgendered front, President Obama made up for some lost LGBT time with his appointment of Amanda Simpson (the former Mitchell Simpson), a transgender woman, to serve in the Commerce Department. Amanda, a former test pilot and candidate for a Tucson, Arizona, congressional seat, transitioned from male to female while serving as Deputy Director in Advanced Technology Development for Raytheon. She was voted 2004 YWCA “Woman On The Move.”
On the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Web site Amanda wrote, “I’m truly honored to have received this appointment and am eager and excited about this opportunity that is before me. And at the same time, as one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government, I hope that I will soon be one of hundreds, and that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others.”
Amanda will take up the post of Senior Technical Adviser to the Commerce Department. Previously, Amanda worked for 30 years in the aerospace and defense industry as a rocket scientist. Originally from Chicago, “Mitch” was the oldest of four boys in a Jewish family. His yearning to be female from his earliest boyhood years.
Congrats to this wonderfully qualified transgender American!
John A. Perez: First Openly Gay Speaker of the Assembly
Since good things come in threes, let’s not forget young California native John A. Perez, the 44th California Assembly District representative. He was recently unanimously voted, by The California Assembly Democratic Caucus, to serve as the next Speaker of the California Assembly. According to Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), John’s colleague representing the 44th Assembly district, “A unanimous vote by the Democratic caucus is tantamount to election as Speaker.” A full-house member floor vote is expected when the Assembly reconvenes in January.
After the caucus vote Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) says, “The Assembly Democratic caucus has made me proud many times in the past 18 months and today is one of those times. First by the high caliber of the Speaker candidates we had, especially the final two, John Pérez and Kevin de León, and second by the strength our caucus has shown in coming together and uniting behind one of those candidates, the next Speaker of the Assembly, John Pérez.”
First-term Assemblymember Pérez thanked his Assembly colleagues for the honor, “I want to thank the Members of the Assembly Democratic Caucus for the faith they have placed in me. It is a humbling privilege. I will work every day to justify that faith and to earn the enormous honor of having been drafted to serve as Speaker.”
Pérez grew up in El Sereno and Highland Park before attending the University of California, Berkeley. He spent seven years handling political matters for the United Food and Commercial Workers and, until 2008, was a member of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. As a teenager he became one of the youngest members of the Northeast Democratic Club.
John becomes the first openly gay Speaker of the Assembly. He will be following in the footsteps of Karen Bass, the current speaker; his cousin, former Assembly speaker Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco and “Big Daddy” Jess Unruh.
Congratulations, John. You have achieved an amazing milestone.