The Houston GLBT Political Caucus is “the belle of the ball” in this year’s mayor’s race as several gay-friendly candidates try to land the group's coveted endorsement.

After six years under term-limited Mayor Annise Parker — a one-time caucus president and the first openly LGBT person elected to lead a major U.S. city — it's not surprising for the group's endorsement to be highly coveted. 

One candidate, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, spent $3,040 to purchase 76 Caucus memberships to try and sway the upcoming vote. But Caucus President Maverick Welsh told the Houston Chronicle the group's backing isn't for sale: 

"We know campaigns actively try to push as many people into the room as possible, and that's why we've strategically tried to grow our membership over the last year and a half," Welsh said. "I don't think any candidate has enough members to be able to buy an endorsement." ... 

"It's kind of nice to be in the position of being the belle of the ball for once," he said. 

Turner’s wooing of the caucus is interesting given that his record on LGBT issues isn’t exemplary. As the Texas Observer reported recently, Turner voted in favor of bans on both same-sex marriage and gay foster parents as a state lawmaker. Turner claims he’s since evolved on LGBT issues, but critics say his shift is politically motivated. Turner was dogged by gay rumors in the 1991 mayor’s race, but his spokeswoman, Sue Davis, said she doesn’t expect them to come up again: 

“Twenty-three years ago, starting rumors that your opponent was gay was a time-honored political tactic," Davis said in an email. "Times have changed. Politics is as rough as it always was – but for candidates, gay-baiting invariably backfires."

The Caucus will endorse a mayoral candidate during its Aug. 8 meeting.

HERO becomes campaign issue

 

The battle for the Caucus’ endorsement is likely to come down to Turner, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and City Council member Stephen Costello. 

Bell arguably has the longest, strongest record in support of LGBT rights, having voted against a federal anti-gay marriage amendment as a member of Congress in 2004, when he received a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign. Garcia implemented LGBT protocols at the Harris County Jail, though some have been rescinded by new Sheriff Ron Hickman. Costello supported the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO. 

Turner (top photo) and Garcia (second photo) wooed LGBT supporters at the HRC Houston gala in April. Garcia, Tuner, Bell, Costello and Marty McVey either marched in or had contingents take part in the Houston Pride parade last month (photo). And Turner helped roast LGBT activist and citizen provocateur Ray Hill during an event in April.

Welsh said the battle over HERO has fueled a major increase in the Caucus’ membership over the last few years. A lawsuit seeking to repeal HERO is still pending in court, and one key question is whether the new mayor will vigorously defend and implement the ordinance. 

Meanwhile, as several candidates actively pursue the Caucus’ backing, at least one is making no bones about his anti-LGBT views. 

Ben Hall, a lawyer who lost to Parker in 2013, signed a petition seeking to enshrine a transgender bathroom ban in the city charter. The petition from anti-LGBT activist Dave Wilson, like the one seeking to repeal HERO, is now tied up in court. 

Hall responded to reports that he signed the petition on his website Tuesday and will address the petition effort during a Thursday press conference. 

I support the right of all Houstonians to vote on important social issues that impact their lives. That is why my family and I proudly signed a petition that would allow Houstonians to vote on a clear legal definition of “gender.”

It is no secret the City of Houston is operating under a legally flawed and unenforceable definition of gender in the city charter. I believe the language would allow a male sexual predator to simply dress up as a woman to gain access to a woman’s restroom. That is a public safety issue, not an issue of sexual orientation.

Hall also criticized other candidates for buying memberships in the Caucus ahead of the endorsement meeting.

“I am running to be Mayor of all Houstonians. Every candidate who thinks he needs to write a check to get the support of the gay community should explain why.”