Annise Parker is the Mayor of Houston, Texas and the first openly gay mayor of a major US city. She and her partner Kathy Hubbard have been together for 23 years.
They are the parents of three children, two adopted bi-racial daughters and a son. As Kathy explains it, "Jovan (their son) found us. He was 16 and roaming the Pride Festival grounds, carrying his suitcase, after his grandmother booted him out of the house for being gay. Annise knew him from talks she had given to LGBT youth groups, and gave him the key to our home. Then she caught up with me and told me what she had done!" The girls, now 16 and 21, were adopted at the ages of 7 and 12. They are half-sisters and each came from very religious foster homes and the foster parents made serious attempts to disrupt both of the adoptions. The 12 year-old was given a choice of being adopted but the foster parents told the 7 year old she would "go to hell" if she went to live with two lesbians. But Annise Parker is not one to let such hostility stand in her way. Then a member of Houston's City Council, she was able to bring together representatives from the appropriate agencies for reasonable negotiations and soon her family was larger by a factor of 2.
Although advised by political consultants against adopting bi-racial children, the couple forged ahead. And rather than seclude the girls, they made sure that their multi-racial family was a visible example of love to the citizens of Houston. No closet of any size or type is able to hold back Annise Parker and Kathy Hubbard. As Kathy says, "We are so far out of the closet that we live on the front lawn."
Annise and Kathy live a life of service, not only to their community but also to their family. When asked how they have stayed together for 22 years, the answer was a clear "communication, commitment and patience." Their home is a haven for those who need them. After living together for only a year, the couple opened their arms and home to Annise's 90 year-old grandparents who came to live with them. She says, "It was Kathy who helped me change my grandfather's diapers." I can attest from personal experience that anyone who has ever cared for an aging relative knows what an enormous act of love and commitment that is. Their relationship has sailed the stormy waters of adopting and raising children, running political campaigns, remodeling homes, and caring for the elderly while providing love and support for each other through it all.
Annise had been in public office for12 years before being elected Mayor, first as City Councilperson and then as Controller. It is clear that her election was based on her reputation for service and not her gender or homosexuality. She is used to being asked what it's like to be an openly gay mayor, not only of a major city, but a major city in an "extremely conservative, very red state." With swelling pride, she defends the city that she clearly loves very dearly. “I love my job. I have the best job in the world. Houston is my hometown. I don’t know of a big city mayor who doesn’t love their city. You have to be in love with your city in order to do it."
"Houston is a global city. Texas has a long tradition of accepting people from anywhere based on what they can do and what they bring to the game. There is a tolerance for strong women with strong personalities and a streak of respecting independence in women." It is crystal clear that her success as mayor is why she was recently re-elected for a second term of office.
Nevertheless, there is a Pastor in Houston who has launched a crusade to get Mayor Parker to voluntarily resign because she has "violated her oath of office." He is particularly incensed that she refers to Kathy as "the First Lady." Says Parker, "Who knew that that was the worst thing that I could do?" Two previous First Ladies, however, are very embracing of Kathy and have collaborated with her on mutually important causes and crusades, such as environmental issues.
For Annise, Kathy is the most wonderful woman in the world. "She can keep up with me. She understands my passion for public service. She is always supportive, always beside me and yet can still surprise me."
For Kathy, the day Annise was elected in 2009, "sent shock waves around the world. It was a victory for values. She's there because she is honest. Her election stands up for values because honesty and integrity have been validated. You can be who you are and have the career that you want to and give back to the world what you want to give."
For Annise Parker and Kathy Hubbard, Houston is definitely "somewhere over the rainbow" in many, many ways.