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Parker, Annise (b. 1956)  
 
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In 2009, after a dozen years in elective office in Houston, Texas, Annise Parker won election to the mayoralty of the fourth-largest city in the United States, becoming the first open lesbian to lead a major American city.

Since then, she has been re-elected twice and has earned the respect of even conservative Republicans for her competence and dedication.

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A native of Houston, born May 17, 1956, Parker was raised in the Spring Branch community of Houston. Her mother was a bookkeeper and her father worked for the Red Cross. His job took the family to the U. S. Army Base in Mannheim, Germany for a two-year stay when Annise was 15.

After graduating from high school in South Carolina in 1974, she returned to Houston to attend Rice University on a National Merit Scholarship, and the city has been her home ever since. Following her graduation from college with a degree in anthropology and sociology in 1978, she began a career doing economic modeling for energy companies. She worked for 18 years for Mosbacher Energy.

Out since her high school days, Parker also became involved in the quest for glbtq rights. She was instrumental in establishing a glbtq student organization at Rice and subsequently joined gay and lesbian groups in the community. She was among the participants in the city's first Pride parade in 1979.

Parker became president of Houston's Gay Political Caucus in 1986, a year after the citizens had decisively rejected an initiative to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"It was a scary, very difficult time," Parker stated to Mike Snyder of the Houston Chronicle. "The two most visible lesbian activists in Houston were myself and Sue Lovell (now a City Council member). We had regular death threats, our tires slashed, vandalism."

Parker became the co-owner of a gay and feminist bookstore, Inklings, in 1988. Two years later, tax-preparer Kathy Hubbard made a pitch for the company's business. The bookstore was using another tax service, but Parker engaged Hubbard to do her own taxes.

The two women quickly developed a friendship that blossomed into romance and, ultimately, a lifetime commitment.

In 1993 the couple expanded their family by taking in Jovon Tyler, a sixteen-year-old boy who was homeless because his previous caretakers, his grandparents, had cast him out when he revealed that he was gay.

The couple did not formally adopt Tyler, but they are the women that he acknowledges as his mothers. They encouraged him to continue his education, and they proudly attended his graduation from mortuary school.

The family grew again when Parker and Hubbard adopted sisters Daniela and Marquitta—then twelve and seven years of age, respectively—in 2003.

Because of her activism for glbtq rights Parker was named to the Houston Police Advisory Committee. In response to anti-gay crimes of violence, the police, in 1991, undertook "Operation Vice Versa," an initiative that had undercover officers posing as gay male couples to test the extent of the problem, which the police apparently did not originally perceive as particularly significant.

As it turned out, there were half a dozen attacks on Operation Vice Versa decoys in the first two weeks of the project, with fourteen people arrested as a result.

"The [Houston police] department was flabbergasted," vice-president Robert Bridges of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Caucus told Jacob Smith Yang of the Gay Community News. "My understanding is they were going to run the program for 30 days, hoping to document just one case. I don't know if they think we were crying wolf or just a bunch of whiners or what."

Regarding the police department's expectations, Parker stated to Smith Yang, "I believe they thought not much would happen, and now they will have to try to decide what to do now that they see the problem's magnitude."

Parker went on to note that an officer who was maced while holding hands with a male colleague as part of the sting operation was subjected to taunts "in the station locker room [that] would have been grounds for an arrest on his . . . beat."

While recognizing the institutionalized often present in police departments, Parker called Operation Vice Versa "a great tool for officer sensitivity training" and expressed the hope that the Houston police department would become more inclusive "with some openly gay and lesbian officers on the force."

Parker made her first foray into elective politics in 1991, running unsuccessfully against an incumbent district representative on the Houston City Council.

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An official portrait of Houston, Texas Mayor Annise Parker.
  
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