How quickly they turn on you. Tom Leppert won his 2007 race for Dallas mayor after supporters attacked his main opponent for being gay. Now Leppert is under attack by his opponents in the race for a U.S. Senate seat for “celebrating gay pride” while he served as mayor.
On Wednesday Leppert and other Republican candidates for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison participated in a debate sponsored by the right-wing Eagle Forum at the Dallas Country Club. Among the candidates at the debate were Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, ESPN sports analyst Craig James and Driftwood mediator Lela Pittenger. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is also seeking the Senate seat, didn’t attend.
Leppert’s opponents criticized him for (gasp!) attending two gay pride parades when he was Dallas mayor. According to the Dallas Morning News, Cruz argued that Leppert’s participation in the events sent a wrong message to the public:
“When the mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay pride, that’s a statement. It’s not a statement I believe in.”
James moved beyond just criticizing Leppert and insisted that sexual orientation is a “choice.” From the Dallas Morning News story:
James, a rancher and former NFL player, said Leppert could have made a stronger stand for Christians by skipping the events. James said he would never take part in a gay rights parade.
“Our moral fiber is sliding down a slope that’s going to be hard to stop if we don’t stand up with leaders who don’t ride in gay parades,” he said. “I hear what you’re saying, Tom, but our kids out there need to see examples. … I know you’re a Christian. I’m not doubting you, Tom, but, man, you have to stand up.”
James went on to say that being gay was not innate.
“It’s a choice,” just as people choose to be in same-sex relationships, he said. “You have to make that choice.”
“God’s going to judge each one of us in this room for our actions,” he said. “But in that case right there, they are going to have to answer to the Lord for their actions.”
Leppert argued that he was just as opposed to gay marriage as the other candidates, but he defended his actions as mayor:
Leppert, who appeared visibly angry, said he marched in the parades because he was the mayor of all the city’s citizens. “My job as mayor was to represent everybody in this city. I visited groups that didn’t agree with what I said. I talked to groups that I didn’t agree with what they said, but it was my obligation to represent everybody,” he said.
“My role as a Christian is to reach out and touch everybody,” Leppert said. “I wish I could have made stands only when I was in a courtroom, but I didn’t. I was criticized time and time again for showing my faith and being open with it” while mayor.
Leppert won his mayoral run-off election in 2007 against openly gay Councilmember Ed Oakley. Cathie Adams, then and now the rabidly anti-gay president of Texas Eagle Forum, was particularly outspoken in her opposition to Oakley. She sent out an email to right-wing activists begging them to “PLEASE vote FOR Tom Leppert for Mayor!” Just days before the run-off election, Adams told the Houston Chronicle:
“Does Dallas want to be famous for having a lesbian sheriff and a homosexual mayor to compete with San Francisco? I don’t think that is where Dallas is going,” said Cathie Adams, leader of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum.
She said Oakley, who sits on the board of a company that operates four gay bars, has been low-key about it but “will push a gay agenda in every arena he can push it.”
Now, less than five years later, Leppert finds himself criticized for walking alongside gay folks after his election.