It was what I like to call an off-off year. 2003 featured few political races, in few states, and none of them for President, House or Senate. But that’s the year that I graduated college so that’s the year I joined a campaign.
In the midst of a week-long campaign training through EMILY’s List‘s Campaign Corps program, participants were asked to choose a few races to be placed on. EMILY’s List identified progressive and viable candidates throughout the country and would be sending off their recent Campaign Corps graduates to these races.
Like I said, only a few states were possibilities: New Jersey, Virginia and Texas and maybe 4 or 5 others. I’d already lived in New Jersey for most of my life and for four years I lived just north of Virginia in DC so I opted for Texas.
I took this campaign job as not only an opportunity to learn about politics, but to explore the country and meet new people.
After days of driving, Alegra and I landed in Houston. It was August. It was HOT. Like the hottest environment I’ve ever been in. Hot. Hot. Hot.
I’d only known Alegra for that short training week but we had plenty of time to share stories and to talk about our pending jobs. We both couldn’t believe we’d be living in Houston for at least 3 months. She was also from the coast (San Jose) and we had no idea what to expect living in the reddest of red states, Texas (although this was before we assigned states colors.)
What we also couldn’t figure out was how Annise Parker would win Houston City Controller. Annise is an open lesbian. Democrat. In Texas. How could this work?!?!
We didn’t have much time to think about it. We were thrown into a 7-day, 12-hour-a-day, work week. We also had a campaign office pet, Gwennie the guinea pig, to care for.
While we never became accustomed to the oppressive heat, we did realize how possible it was for Annise to win. She’d already been re-elected as a city council member. She had many organizational and press endorsements. She and Grant, the campaign manager, collected a fantastic following of volunteers, many of them also gay.
Houston is a huge, huge city. The 4th largest in the country to be exact. If Annise won she’d govern more people than some state-wide officials. Houston is incredibly diverse, housing all ethnicities and even some dudes wearing cowboy hats and boots. I learned a lot on this campaign: how to hold down a job, how to live on basically no money and little sleep, how to cook, how to not talk in my very fast Jersey accent and how to handle calls of bigotry.
While most of the city didn’t take her sexual orientation into consideration when deciding how to vote, some did. And it hurt. But that was the minority and although Texas may have an ugly connotation for many, I will always remember the kindheartedness of Annise’s supporters. Annie won that race in a December run-off (doubling my expected time in Houston.)
Let me explain the run-off. Basically, Houston doesn’t run their city elections by party. There is no party affiliation on the ballot making primaries non-existent. The general election usually hosts about 4 or 5 candidates and to be deemed winner the candidate must win a majority (so the general is more like a non-partisan primary.) With more than 2 people running in a race, it’s tough to get to that percentage. While Annise did win the most votes, she didn’t reach a majority so we were entered into the run-off (which is really more like a general election in other states.) Annise also won the run-off. It was awesome.
I left Texas soon after but my dedication to LGBT rights continued.
I think gay rights is the civil rights issue of our generation. And I believe that gays in America should not be able to be fired from their job for being gay. In fact, in 29 states it is legal to fire someone for being gay. I know. It is CRAZY.
Annise won re-election for controller and is now in a run-off election for MAYOR!
While much of the (liberal) country is deciding that gays do not have the same rights as other Americans, Houstonians may be electing a lesbian to be the leader of their city.
Annise is only up 5.5% in the polls and her opponent has been accused of being tied to some anti-gay groups. Election day is this Saturday, December 12th. (If you know anyone that lives in Houston and hasn’t voted yet. Yes, I said yet. Houston allows early voting.)
If Annise wins, Houston will be the largest city to have elected an openly-gay candidate. It’s something all of Texas could be proud of. America could be proud too.We could finally be embracing our country’s beautiful diversity (again).
And I just have to give another plug for EMILY’s List and Campaign Corps. This video features a bunch of my friends and fellow campaign staffers, including Annise.