Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is Houston Ready for a "Gay" Mayor?

Since we asked: Sure, certainly, why not, etc.––with qualification. [Editor’s note: This posting does not advance too far beyond the previous sentence, so if you’ve got something in the oven or need to walk the dog by all means attend to those matters and don’t fritter away any more time here.]

By “qualification” we mean that if the leading candidate for mayor were a gay man, we suspect the issue/non-issue of the candidate’s homosexuality would have surfaced more prominently in the “public conversation” by now, although it’s unlikely it would have been raised there by any of our hypothetical gay-male mayoral candidate’s hypothetical opponents, because that would not only be tacky but most likely a vote-loser in the current climate. (In the interest of disclosure and so on we’ll note that we are leaning toward voting for the non-hypothetical gay female candidate, which certainly doesn’t give us pause in offering the following customary trenchant analysis that you’ll find only here and nowhere else.)

That’s just the way it is: At this stage of Western Civilization, the public is more accepting of lesbianism than it is of male homosexuality, at least when it comes to the sexual orientation of public figures. And while we’ve met many a lesbian in our day to whom we wouldn’t issue any smart lip, or even wish to face as a batter in a fast-pitch softball game, the public at large––males in particular but other women, too––is exponentially less threatened by gay females, especially the cute ’n’ cuddly type. Take MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, whose earnest, approachable, fresh-faced regular-gal-ness makes her rabid partisanship almost sugary-sweet. Or Ellen, who of course wouldn’t be the worldwide entertainment phenomenon she is if she were named Eddie ... or Elvis, whatever (particularly considering that Ellen’s not really funny).* Beyond mere temporal issues, Annise Parker has that Ellen-like appeal: wholesome good looks, not overbearing, doesn’t take herself too too seriously, etc. She’s the good daughter, and as a societal archetype the good daughter type has vast and still-virtually-untapped electoral appeal, no matter sexual orientation. It’s associated with “trustworthiness.” (Check it out.)

Some people won’t vote for Parker because she’s gay––”Su homosexulidad podria afectar al voto conservador,” as the Houston Chronicle’s "La Voz de Houston" insert recently put it––but it’s not like they’d vote for her anyway, either because she’s a woman, or is perceived to be too liberal (because she’s woman, although at bottom and on top too Parker’s probably the most conservative of the three money candidates) or, most especially in the present arrangement, because she’s not black. And, of course, some people will vote for her just because she’s gay (these would be mostly other gay people, and why wouldn’t they?). Certainly there are evangelical white voters and others in the city whose minds will be privately (most likely) set against Parker because of who she is, but the probable concentrations of opposition, perhaps vocal, are more likely to be found in the smaller black churches whose congregants already have Gene Locke signs in their yards and who consider homosexuality an abomination, except for the homosexuality of the choir director who can supply his own keyboard instrumentation. You’ll remember that the outpouring of black and Hispanic voters for Obama was credited with helping sink California’s gay-marriage referendum. Life’s funny that way.

It’s possible that Parker’s lesbianism could become an under-buzz issue, of sorts, or already is, particularly given the lack of any real staggering bright-line differences between the candidates. But it’s not like that’s going to swing many if any votes in a first-round election or a runoff, and most likely would lose votes for the opponent who publicly brings it up (or, in a more probable scenario, doesn’t or can’t stop his supporters from bringing it up). We’ll see. Parker’s won six citywide elections so you'd assume that anyone who’s going to bother to vote in November knows she’s gay, but we still get the sense that she and the others are relatively unknown quantities to people who don’t play politics or keep a close eye on City Hall. It’s interesting, though, that the race has gone this far without some nasty public eruption or another (and it’d be splendid if it stayed that way), considering that 25 years ago the Houston municipal election seemed to be about nothing but homosexuality––or gay-baiting, to be precise––with the “Straight Slate” of council candidates and Louie Welch’s “shoot the queers” quip** and Steve Hotze’s Il Duce impersonation and ... wasn’t there some half-baked proposal to make restaurant waiters wear plastic gloves, something like that, to prevent them from infecting a diner’s salad with HIV? That amounted to nothing but sound and fury, but my was it loud.

*Our personal opinion, not verifiable.
**He must have thought it was funny.

No comments: