Political Notebook: Bisexual, lesbian politicians stump in SF
by Matthew S. Bajko
Feted at a local Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund event, two women looking to make gay political history stopped off in San Francisco to drum up support for their campaigns and thank Bay Area donors.
Oregon state Senator Kate Brown , believed to be the highest ranking out bisexual politician in the country, is running to become Oregon's secretary of state next year. Were she to win, she would become the first out bisexual statewide officeholder and be second in line to the governor.
Houston City Controller Annise Parker , an out lesbian who won re-election this month to her third two-year term, has all but declared her intention to run for Houston mayor in 2009. Were she to win, Parker could be the first out mayor elected to run one of the country's largest cities. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S.
The Victory Fund, a national organization whose sole focus is to train and fund LGBT candidates running for political office, has already endorsed Brown in her race and plans to help Parker raise the $7 million she will need to launch a successful mayoral bid in two years. Bay Area donors will likely play a significant role in reaching that total.
Their investment will not just be for vanity's sake, said Chuck Wolfe, the fund's executive director, who attended last week's fundraiser.
"People often forget that to change the hearts and minds of people across the country you have to elect people across the country," said Wolfe. "These races are really big and they need help from people who can be helpful. A lot of those people are in the Bay Area."
Brown, 47, became a state representative in 1991 and served two terms in the House before being elected to the Oregon Senate in 1996. In 1998, Brown was elected Democratic leader and helped flip the Senate from having a Democratic Caucus with a 10-20 minority to an 18-12 majority.
Once in the majority, the Democratic senators elected Brown as Oregon's first woman Senate majority leader in 2004, making her the nation's most powerful bisexual lawmaker, according to Wolfe. This summer she announced she would not seek re-election to the Senate, and earlier this month, she officially threw her hat in the May 8 Democratic primary race for the secretary of state post.
"I'd be the first LGBT candidate elected to the second highest office in the state," said Brown, a Minnesota native who graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and received a law degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland.
Brown has been married to her husband, Dan Little , for 10 years. The couple is raising his two children from a prior relationship. She doubts her sexual orientation will be an issue in the spring primary but worries her Republican opponent in the general election could use it to attack her.
"I certainly hope in the Democratic primary it won't play at all," said Brown. "Obviously, I am concerned but I hope it won't play at all in the general."
Oregon voters already elected Virginia L. Linder as the country's first openly lesbian member of a state supreme court and the first openly LGBT person elected as a non-incumbent to a state supreme court.
Brown's race is seen as a toss-up, as it is the first time in 24 years that an incumbent is not running for secretary of state. She faces two other candidates in the primary, so far, and is fighting back perceptions that her liberal stance on issues won't fly in Oregon's more rural areas.
This year alone, as the Oregonian newspaper pointed out in an editorial this summer, Brown "pushed through civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians, stronger ethics laws, solid budgets for schools and universities, and health care reform, including insurance coverage for contraceptives."
Yet the paper's editorial board also noted that she was able to work both sides of the aisle. "With a ready laugh and a disarming style, Brown made serving in the Legislature look almost enjoyable. She was plenty tough and partisan, but the Portland liberal did business, and did it with a smile, with rural conservatives," said the editorial.
Brown has raised $150,000 toward a goal of $600,000 for her race. She said having the Victory Fund's help in the campaign has been invaluable.
"I have been receiving checks in the mail from all over the country. To have that support from the national LGBT community is really wonderful and exciting," she said.
Because of her hometown's election rules, Parker is restricted from officially declaring herself a candidate for Houston mayor until February 2009. For now she readily admits that she is "exploring" a run. She will be termed out from running for controller, as will the current mayor.
"I am exploring my options to run for mayor. The seat will be open," said Parker, 51. "It's way too early to make any official announcements. But it is something I would very much like to do."
Having won six citywide elections, three times for an at-large city council seat and three times for the controller position, Parker has plenty of experience running campaigns in Houston, which has a population of 2.1 million residents.
She ran unopposed this year â€“ as well as two years ago â€“ for controller but expects to square off against five or more opponents in the mayoral race. It is likely the top two vote getters in the November election will be forced into a December runoff.
Parker, a former oil company executive, became a leading gay rights activist in the 1980s and jokes she was one of Houston's "best known lesbians." A past president of Houston's gay political club, she pushed through adding "lesbian" to its name.
She has been with her partner, Kathy Hubbard , for 17 years. The couple adopted sisters Marquitta , 12, and Daniela , 17, five years ago.
Parker first ran for city council in 1991 and lost, then ran again in 1995 in a special election for an at-large seat where she came in third place out of 19 candidates. In both elections the media tagged her as a "lesbian activist," so when she jumped into the council race two years later she reached out to local reporters covering the campaign.
"I told them we all know I am a lesbian but I haven't been in a gay organization's leadership for 10 years. I now work for an oil company," recalled Parker. "I just asked the media to be fair. I had to get the public past Annise Parker, lesbian activist."
Her sexual orientation soon moved down from the first paragraph of news stories to the fifth. Despite whisper campaigns about her being a lesbian, and a hit piece mailed out to black voters showing her male opponent surrounded by his wife and kids and Parker as a single woman, she won the race.
"It made a difference in that campaign. [Houston] is not a progressive city at all. It is a laissez faire business city," said Parker. "It is very much a city that looks to what you can do more than who you are. That is why I worked so hard in my 1997 campaign to get people to look at my resume."
She has retained the services of Grant Martin , an openly gay man who has run several of her past campaigns. Martin relocated to San Francisco four years ago, married his partner, and joined consulting firm Storefront Political Media. He worked on Mayor Gavin Newsom's nearly hassle-free re-election campaign this year.
"We established a rapport. He is a Houstonian and he still has his contacts there," said Parker.
Harvey Milk march Tuesday
The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club will host the annual memorial march in honor of the political club's namesake at sunset (5:30 p.m.) Tuesday, November 27.
Thirty years ago this month Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office when he won a seat representing the Castro on the Board of Supervisors. A year later disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White gunned down Milk in his City Hall office along with then-Mayor George Moscone.
The deaths of the two politicians stunned the city, and Milk became a martyr to the nascent gay rights movement. This past weekend casting began for Milk, a biopic of Milk's life starring local actor Sean Penn and directed by openly gay Gus Van Sant. Filming is set to begin in January.
Marchers will gather at Harvey Milk Plaza and proceed to the site of his former camera store, now the gift shop Given. This year the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus will perform at the event. The chorus' first-ever performance was on the steps of City Hall the night of Milk's assassination. Club President Brian Basinger said Tuesday that singer Holly Near has confirmed, as well as Dance Brigade and Shawna Virago .
The march will kick off the Milk Club's 30th anniversary commemoration of Harvey's life and sacrifice. In addition, this spring a bust of Milk, which received major funding by the Bob Ross Foundation, is expected to be placed in City Hall.