Houston Mayor Annise Parker told students about her struggle to become known for her actions and not her sexual orientation Thursday at Cemo Hall.
Parker, Houston’s first openly gay mayor and the second woman to hold the office, said she found it hard to make herself electable.
“Since I was not only gay, but openly gay and publicly gay, it was a hurdle to get over with,” she said. “Every time I saw my name in public, it was Annise Parker, gay or activist lesbian. There were people who thought I was impossible to elect.”
However, this wasn’t the first time she was discriminated against for being a lesbian.
“I knew I was a lesbian at 15,” she said. “I was out my entire time in college and was ostracized for four years. There were times people didn’t want to room with me.”
She found a way to make constituents understand that she is a lesbian, but there is more to her résumé than her sexual preference.
Her sexuality “was something that had to be managed and accounted for,” but she had also worked in the oil industry and other areas of activism for many years.
Many of her opponents in elections also criticized her about changing the face of traditional family values, but she felt no problem in connecting with people in this area.
“I’m close to my family; I’m a parent,” she said, speaking of her partner of 21 years and their three adopted children. “I live in the same world; I have the same experiences.”
She remembered when President Barack Obama called her and left her a voicemail, which she accidentally ignored, to congratulate her on the election.
“I played it for everybody… played it for all my campaign volunteers,” she said.
When she was elected mayor, it “shocked people. It changed the view of Houston and Texas for many,” she said. “I use elections to change people’s views of my hometown, which some people compare to a redneck wasteland.”
She also talked about the obstacles women face in the workforce.
“There’s sexism and ceiling glass but initial first impressions, how you present yourself and how you carry yourself,” are the most important things, she said.
Despite the obstacles, Parker said she gets up every day and does her best for the citizens of Houston, whether they appreciate it or not.
The mayor also told the young people in the audience they can make a difference in their hometowns by registering to vote.
“If you are not voting, you are failing yourself — you’re an insult to your community and an insult to people who died to give you that right,” she said.
The effort to bring Parker to campus started last July by GLOBAL — the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and asexual organization on campus.
“We wanted GLOBAL and others to realize we can work in unison to promote and show growth of the LGBT community,” said Joshua Sutherland, organizational leadership and supervision management sophomore and vice president of the organization. “It shows we’re supported by the people we support, it’s a symbiotic relationship.”