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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nation's First Gay Mayor Elected in Major U.S City!

The landmark election Saturday of America's first big-city lesbian mayor in Houston represents more than just a milestone in identity politics.

It also signals an unmistakable evolutionary step in national politics, one that provides further evidence of a trend that helped make Barack Obama president: growth-oriented communities like the Texas metropolis, rather than aging big cities or nostalgia-inducing small towns, are setting the course of the country's political direction.

Houston is one of a set of fast-growing cities and expanding suburbs whose changing face and increasingly post-racial politics played a pivotal role in sending Obama to the White House. Their politics are defined by some of the same trends—notably, growing Hispanic and Asian populations and the rise of the service sector—that are shaping the nation as a whole.

But the election of Annise Parker in Houston makes clear that the Charlottes and Houstons are now at the forefront of American political change, while the shrinking and declining big cities of the Northeast and Rust Belt are bringing up the rear.

Other well known residents of Houston; not to mention, former Presidnet George H.W. Bush, and Barbara Bush participated in this weeks pivital election. Houston has already shown signs of a recognizable political shift. While the political math of deep-red Texas denied Houston a presidential visit, Obama’s campaign focused on similarly situated cities—places like Las Vegas, a hub of his Western campaign, with late-in-campaign stops added for Orlando, Fla., the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and the Research Triangle of North Carolina.

"As people become more comfortable with ethnic diversity they also become more comfortable with sexual diversity," said Stephen Klineberg, a professor of Sociology at Rice University.

That tolerance, he noted, isn’t equivalent to across-the-board social liberalism. His research has found a dramatic increase in tolerance of homosexuality over the last decade in Houston even as the view that abortion is “immoral” grew slightly more widespread.

Yet the election of an out lesbian who made her name initially as a gay-rights activist, one who embraced her partner on stage on election night, nevertheless reveals a breakthrough in the country's march toward what could be called either tolerance or just plain apathy toward homosexuality.

Indeed, save for an 11th-hour flurry of mailers paid for by allies of Parker's opponent, Gene Locke, her sexual orientation mattered little in a race dominated by conventional municipal issues such as crime, jobs and education. What was remarkable about the contest was just how unremarkable the voters found it that Parker was a lesbian. And that's the equality we're always talking about. Nothing extra, just equal.