(Reuters) Annise Parker (C) is publicly sworn in as mayor of the nation's fourth largest city by United States District Judge Vanessa Gilmore as the new mayor's partner Kathy Hubbard (R) holds the Bible in Houston January 4, 2010. Houston on December 12, 2009 became the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor, Parker, after a hotly contested run-off election that gave gay and lesbian supporters a symbolic victory following defeats over legalizing same-sex marriages in California and Maine.
It was in 1985 when Annise Parker's political activism began, growing out of the Houston mayoralty race, an election rife with open Homophobia. A slate of anti-homosexual candidates called the ''Straight Slate'' ran well, forcing into runoffs against two incumbents who had backed homosexual job rights. From the NY Times of Nov 1985:
In the end, all the sound and fury over homosexuality and the disease AIDS signified little. Kathy Whitmire easily won re-election as Mayor of Houston Tuesday, political experts said, by convincing Houstonians that she was a good Mayor, better able than her opponent to lead the city out of its economic doldrums.
That was the prevailing interpretation today among politicians after the 39-year-old Mayor's decisive victory over Louie Welch, the 66-year-old former five-term Mayor who was making a comeback attempt. Mrs. Whitmire won 200,788 or 58.9 percent of the votes; her opponent won 138,552 or 40.6 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining votes.
Mr. Welch, in the final two weeks of the campaign, had stressed Mrs. Whitmire's backing of job rights for homosexuals and fear of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, most of whose victims are homosexual.
Mr. Welch entered the race after leading a successful effort by the Houston Chamber of Commerce, of which he was president, to repeal the homosexual job rights bill. But his candidacy suffered a severe blow two weeks ago when, unaware that his voice was being broadcast on television, he said one way to halt the spread of AIDS would be to ''shoot the queers.''
That election had a profound effect on Annise Parker and the entire Houston LGBT community. In 1986 Parker would lead Houston's GLBT Political Caucus herself, eventually winning a seat on City Council.
"Parker ran unsuccessfully for City Council District C in 1991 and again in 1995, finishing third in the special election for At-Large position 4, the seat vacated by Sheila Jackson Lee after her election to Congress. In 1997, Parker prevailed in the runoff election for At-Large position 1 to become Houston's first openly gay elected official. [link]
So when Louie Welch died in Jan of 2008 it might have seemed unusual that Annise Parker would choose to not only attend his funeral but also write this touching portrait of the man whose bigotry had started her own political awakening. Here is what Parker wrote for OutSmart magazine in Jan 08, Full Circle: An ironic farewell to former Houston mayor Louie Welch:
Former Houston Mayor Louie Welch was not a simple man. He served five terms as mayor (1963 – 1973), after two unsuccessful tries. Before that, he was a council member for four years. I believe he is the only former council member to become mayor. He led what is now the Greater Houston Partnership after leaving office. He was a true visionary, securing the water rights that Houston uses today, creating the EMS function of the fire department and expanding Houston's international presence. Gregarious and quick with a quip but fiercely tenacious, he was a rat terrier of a man—he simply adored Houston with every inch of his 5'6" being.
Yes, this is the same Louie Welch who uttered those stupid, derogatory words "Shoot the queers" in 1985. As you may recall, while waiting to begin a TV interview he tried to make a joke about his strategy to prevent AIDS. The camera was rolling and the live feed went directly to the TV station.
Welch was a man of his time and that time had passed him by. He was a politician who learned his craft when reporters carefully edited the public personas of the powerful, and all interviews were on tape. The remark would be utterly shocking by today's standards of public humor, but it was crude and offensive even in the 1980s. An overnight printing of hundreds of T-shirts pleading "Louie, don't shoot!" raised money for the gay community's political efforts. Welch subsequently lost his political comeback bid to unseat mayor Kathy Whitmire.
When Mayor Welch failed for the first time to attend the most recent city inauguration, I knew he was very ill. When he died, the mayor, council members, and I received notice of the funeral arrangements. He would be accorded what is our version of a state funeral. Out of respect for his devotion to the city I also love, I joined hundreds of mourners and attended.
Former mayors Hofheinz and Lanier attended the service, but slipped away at the end. Mayor White actually had to leave before the service ended. No other sitting city official bothered to attend.
So there I found myself, standing at attention with the honor guard, the lone representative of the elected leadership of the City of Houston. I still have my T-shirt, carefully saved. I think Mayor Welch might have appreciated the irony.
Annise Parker was elected Mayor of Houston on December 12, 2009. She was sworn in yesterday, January 4, 2010.
Full video of her address:
Houston Mayor Annise Parker wields the gavel to open her first session of City Council after being inaugurated in Houston January 4, 2010.
(AP)In this photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, City Controller candidate Annise Parker, center, embraces her family, from left, Daniela Parker, daughter, Kathy Hubbard, partner, Jovon Tyler, son, Marquitta Parker, daughter, and Kay Parker, mother, after she thanked her supporters during an election watch party at the Hilton Americas in Houston. If Parker wins the Dec. 12, 2009 runoff mayoral election, Houston would become what's believed to be the largest U.S. city ever to have an openly gay mayor _ and that has catapulted Parker's sexual orientation into the center of the race.