This weekend Houston made history, electing Anisse Parker the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. The Texan coup was a clear victory for advocates of civil rights and marriage equality, but also stands to erode the consistent—and incorrect—presumption that black Americans are reflexively anti-gay. Parker won the runoff election with nearly 54 percent of the vote in a city that is 25 percent African American—against an African-American opponent, no less. Despite a series of mailings and smears targeted at Parker and engineered by conservatives, the 40 percent of black voters who were undecided in mid-October seem to have gravitated toward Parker and pushed her over the top. What’s more, late-stage polls suggest that 77 percent of voters “didn’t care about Parker’s sexuality.”
Black Americans should be glad of this outcome. Parker will, by all accounts, prove a competent and energetic executive and a Democratic foil to neo-secessionist Governor Rick Perry. And this victory is an opportunity to openly affirm the solidarity on civil rights and equal representation that has been the bedrock of social progress in the country.
Indeed, the bedfellows in the growing marriage-equality discussion are ever more numerous and diverse—and religious, even. At the American Prospect, Adam Serwer—who’s been following the debate in Washington, DC, has reported away the myth of black bigotry:
Contrary to the stereotype established by California, in mostly black Washington, D.C., marriage-equality efforts were boosted by an integrated base of pro-marriage-equality activists. In New York, the defeat of the marriage-equality bill was driven mostly by white Republicans and Democratic defectors — only two black Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against it.
The emergence of openly gay black political figures may help shift perceptions of LGBT rights issues in the black community. Charles Pugh was elected president of Detroit's City Council, with the support of local black religious leaders, including the AME Ministerial Alliance and the Council of Baptist Pastors. The Rev. Lonnie Peek, a spokesperson for the Council of Baptist Ministers, told The Detroit News that Pugh was "just the right person to bring about change." In this case, that means helping the city recover from the recession, avoid fiscal insolvency, tackle a growing AIDS epidemic, and restore integrity after the conviction of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for obstruction of justice and City Council Member Monica Conyers on bribery charges.
There are other gay candidates—such Anthony Woods, an Iraq War veteran who recently ran for former Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s congressional seat in California—who provide a far better political example than the heterosexual disgraces such as Kilpatrick. And in a time where Ugandan gays are being threatened with death, the show of support for equal rights is ever more important
This leap forward doesn’t mean that same-sex marriage (defeated, most recently, in Maine and in New York state) is coming around the bend—nor that illiberal political factions (including the New York Times) will stop assuming that sexual orientation divides natural allies. But in the state that sent George W. Bush to the White House, the Republican candidate got spanked. Not a bad weekend’s work.
And, because it’s funny and moving, here is an impassioned argument from New York State Senator Diane Savino in favor of marriage equality:
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.