Founding and Early Years
The Caucus was founded in the summer of 1975 by four dedicated gay and lesbian activists Pokey Anderson, Bill Buie, Hugh Crell, and Keith McGee, long before gay rights became a major national issue. From its earliest moments, the organization emphasized electing candidates who were gay-friendly and had made specific commitments to support issues important to Houston’s GLBT community. Its first president was Gary Van Ooteghem, who served from 1975 through the middle of 1977. A Houston Chronicle photo of early GLBT advocates Ray Hill, Pokey Anderson, Jerry Miller, and Rev. Bob Falls is often mistaken for being a picture of the founders of The Caucus because many early activists, including some of the founders refused to have their photo published.
In its early years, the group struggled to find candidates who would actively seek its endorsement, but members persisted in grassroots efforts, from printing endorsement cards to working the polls and many other activities. As the group demonstrated its ability to turn out GLBT and GLBT-friendly voters, more politicians sought its endorsement. The group made endorsements in the Houston municipal election, fall of 1975, and contributed to the re-election of Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz. In 1977 it endorsed Kathy Whitmire, who won her race for City Controller.
In 1979, it endorsed Eleanor Tinsley, who was running for an at-large seat on city council; she defeated an incumbent who had been outspoken against glbt rights. Sue Lovell, who was a leader in the Caucus at the time, recalls: “The then-Gay Political Caucus approached Eleanor Tinsley wanting to endorse her in her race for City Council At-Large Position 2 against 12-year incumbent Frank Mann. Many of the people who worked on her campaign advised her not to take the endorsement, because she would lose a lot of votes. Her response was, ‘I believe I will gain more votes than I will lose, and it’s the right thing to do. I want to be on the forefront of this civil rights movement.'” Tinsley went on to win that race, becoming the first woman elected to Houston’s city council in an at-large seat.
In 1981, the group experienced a turning point of sorts when it played an integral role in the election of Kathy Whitmire, who became the city’s first woman mayor. Her support for GLBT issues drew criticism from conservatives in the city, but she refused to recant it and won four more elections with the group’s support.
Success of Openly Gay Candidates
By the 1990s, the HGLBTPC was one of the most important political organizations in the city, with many candidates seeking its endorsement, especially on the Democratic side. In 1997, the group experienced another milestone with the election of Annise Parker to an at-large seat on Houston’s city council. Parker had served as president of the HGLBTPC in the 1980s. With the support of the Caucus, she became the first openly gay individual elected to citywide office in Houston. She was reelected to two more terms on city council, and in 2003 she launched a bid to become city controller, the second highest office in city government. She won that race, instantly becoming one of the highest-ranking gay officials in the country.
In 2005, the Caucus enjoyed another important victory when Sue Lovell was elected to an at-large seat on city council. Another past president of the Caucus, she became the second openly gay person to win citywide election. She was reelected as a council member in 2007 and 2009 with the support of the Caucus.
Making History: Annise Parker Becomes Mayor
By far the biggest triumph of the organization was the election of Annise Parker as mayor of Houston in 2009. The Caucus endorsed Parker early in her bid to become the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, and its members provided much of the grassroots strength of her campaign. She led the general election and earned a spot in the run-off, where she defeated lawyer Gene Locke by a 53-47 margin to make history. Her election was particularly meaningful to the city’s GLBT community, given the fact that conservative organizations attacked her on the basis of her sexuality during the campaign. While she never sought support solely on the basis of her sexuality, she also never shied away from it, insisting that, “Voters will elect me knowing that I’m gay and that it will mean a lot to my community.”