The country’s first openly gay mayor became the country’s first openly gay married mayor this week. A wedding wouldn’t seem the sort of event to justify partisan commentary, yet at least one critic questioned the timing: Why, the Harris County Republican Party chairman asked, did Mayor Annise Parker marry longtime partner Kathy Hubbard after her re-election?
But Parker has spent more than half of her life working to advance civil rights for homosexuals. The union is just a formality for a life lived outside the closet, years before popular culture began to catch up.
Parker first met Hubbard at Inklings, Parker’s gay and feminist bookstore in Montrose, in 1990. The 23 years they’ve spent together span a period of notable change in gay culture in our country. Parker, 57, had been out since high school.
To give their meeting cultural context, she and Hubbard met two years before singer k.d. lang came out of the closet, three years before singer Melissa Etheridge did so, and seven years before Ellen Degeneres received a toaster from Etheridge when Degeneres’ popular character said she was gay on prime-time TV.
Unlike those performers, Parker didn’t have a paying audience to consider. Instead, she had a constituency to represent. Parker in 1990 was just beginning to think about advancing her career in public service, which eventually would lead to her mayoral election. She began that work at a time when gay rights hit a flashpoint in Houston following two fatal hate crimes.
The evolution of this particular civil rights issue has been urgently debated and has evolved greatly in recent years. The tenor of the debate suggests how far it is from resolution. But it’s also easy to lose sight of how far gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights have come since Parker served as president of Houston’s Gay Political Caucus in 1986, which was one year after actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS after living out for years to close friends but closeted to the public.
Mayor Parker’s story is well known, but it’s always worth taking a look back and reminding ourselves that there was never any guarantee that any of us would wind up where we did. The fact that she is able now to marry the woman she loves and has been partnered with for 23 years would have seemed like a crazy, alternate-universe idea even five years ago. That happy occasion is unfortunately also an opportunity for the usual squadron of small-minded pecksniffs, from anonymous commenters on newspaper websites to public officials that have nothing better to do, to make nasty remarks. Whether they realize it or not, their whining is just a reminder that they’ve lost. They’ve lost in Utah, they’ve lost in Oklahoma, and perhaps as soon as next month, they’ll lose in Texas. The laws may take awhile to catch up, and as with all things some will never give up their fight for the wrong side, but they have lost. Our country is a more joyful place for it.