Election 2011: Large gains for openly gay candidates across U.S.

By Lisa Keen

Tuesday was a very good day for openly LGBT candidates around the country, with three out of four of the more than 60 candidates winning, including Annise Parker, who secured a second term as mayor of Houston.

But the real excitement in the Nov. 8 results came in some of the low-profile races of the day, many in notoriously conservative places. Four out of five openly gay candidates won in conservative North Carolina, including LaWana Mayfield, the first openly LGBT member of the Charlotte City Council. Another lesbian, Caitlin Copple, became the first openly LGBT person elected to city council in Missoula, Montana. Attorney Mike Laster became the first gay man to be elected to the Houston City Council, and businessman Zach Adamson became the first openly LGBT member of the Indianapolis City Council. Alex Morse, 22, won an upset victory over a long-time public official to become mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Steve Pougnet glided to a second-term as mayor of Palm Springs, California. And attorney Chris Seelbach, who helped overturn Cincinnati's anti-gay charter amendment seven years ago, won a seat on the City Council Tuesday.

Data collected independently by Keen News Service and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund indicates there were at least 63 openly LGBT candidates on the ballot Tuesday: 47 of them won, 14 lost, and two outcomes remain uncertain.

Mayors win

Eight of nine openly gay candidates for mayor won Tuesday. Parker in Houston secured 50 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates, though none of her five opponents had anywhere near the funding or organization that Parker did. Still, going into the race, Parker had reason to worry. In mid-October, a local television news poll found that voters were split on her effectiveness. Fifty percent rated her job performance in her first two-year term as either "Fair" or "Poor," while 47 percent rated it "Good" or "Excellent."

In an interview with KHOU-TV, Parker attributed her poll split to people's anxiety around the economy.

"We have the worst economy here in Houston that we've had in decades and we have the worst economy that we've had nationally since the Great Depression," Parker told KHOU. "I understand completely why people are anxious, unhappy. It is what it is."

KHOU noted the bulk of the low job performance scores came from Houston's unemployed and that mayors in other big cities around the country were polling similarly.

Right-wing groups that opposed Parker in 2009 tried again to portray her as a lesbian activist, creating a youtube video that showed a slow-motion clip of her giving her partner-in-life a peck on the cheek after being sworn in. It also showed a news clip of Parker appointing a transgender person, Phyllis Frye, to a local judgeship, and a news clip of an executive order Parker issued to ban discrimination in public restrooms on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The video also showed a letter in which Parker referred to her partner, Kathy Hubbard, as "First Lady."

In Holyoke, Massachusetts, recent college graduate, but longtime local youth and community activist Alex Morse won an upset victory against an incumbent who had been a top town official for many years. The key issue had been over casinos - with Morse being against and incumbent Elaine Pluta being for. Morse had served on the one-time governor's LGBT commission and started a non-profit LGBT group. While attending Brown University in nearby Providence, Rhode Island, Morse worked for openly gay Mayor David Cicilline, who is now in Congress.

In Palm Springs, California, incumbent Mayor Steve Pougnet, who is openly gay, won re-election over a field of six other candidates, taking 70 percent of the vote.

The only losing mayoral candidate Tuesday was Bevan Dufty in San Francisco, where, as of Wednesday morning, Dufty had earned less than four percent of the vote in a field with more than a dozen candidates.

The apparent winner, acting Mayor Ed Lee, will become the first American of Chinese descent to be elected mayor of San Francisco. Lee became acting mayor by appointment of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, after Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. Lee was only the third choice of San Francisco's LGBT newspaper, Bay Area Reporter. (San Francisco voters were able to rank their choices - first, second, and third - among the 16 on the ballot.) The paper endorsed Dufty first and the current City Attorney Dennis Herrara second. One of the city's LGBT Democratic Clubs endorsed Herrera first, Dufty as second choice, and Lee as third. The other LGBT Democratic Club endorsed Supervisor John Avalos, followed by Herrera and State Senator Leland Yee.

In other interesting news from election day:

- An openly lesbian candidate, Caitlin Copple, has won a seat to the city council of Missoula, Montana - a state with a very sparse LGBT population. While Copple's connections to the gay community were not consistently highlighted during the campaign, they weren't hidden either. The local daily newspaper, the Missoulian, ran an article about her involvement "with the Pride Foundation, which works to connect and strengthen Montana's gay rights movement."

- Four of the 63 races Tuesday were for seats in state legislatures. One of the most important of those was Adam Ebbin, who moved from the State House to the State Senate in Virginia, becoming the first openly LGBT person in that chamber. Unfortunately, the State Senate lost a number of Democrats Tuesday and is switching from majority Democrat to majority Republican, giving the state a Republican majority now in both chambers and the governor's office. Two gay men won Assembly seats in New Jersey: Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora. The only loss on the state level was Patrick Forrest, who fell short in his bid for a State Senate seat in Virginia.

- Two out of three candidates for judgeships won yesterday. The winners were Anthony Cannataro in New York and Hugh McGough in Pittsburgh. Daniel Clifford, a Republican, lost his bid for a judgeship in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

- All five candidates for local school boards won Tuesday, including Daniel Hernandez, with 60 percent of the vote, in Tucson. Hernandez is the openly gay aide to U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) who is credited with saving her life after a shooter shot and killed a number of people attending a meet-and-greet the Congresswoman was hosting at a local grocery store.

- Of the 41 candidates running for City Council or its equivalent in their cities, 28 won. Two others are still pending. Brad Bender's big for a Town Council seat in Southampton, New York, is too close to call. Lance Rhodes has been thrown into a run-off for a seat on the East Point City, Georgia, City Council.

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