The Gay Non-Issue

The Legislature may push a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage—never mind that it’s already illegal—but the election of a lesbian sheriff in Dallas County says a lot more about the new politics of sexual orientation in Texas.

LUPE VALDEZ WOULD RATHER NOT TALK about it anymore. After she won the race for Dallas County sheriff in November, she was deluged with calls and requests for interviews. Everyone from the New York Times and National Public Radio to, well, Texas Monthly wanted to know how Valdez, a Democrat and a lesbian, had managed to get elected to do what seemed like a good old boy’s job—and this in an election cycle that saw Republicans prevail nationally and anti-gay-marriage amendments pass in eleven states.

By mid-November she’d had about enough of these interviews. “We’re trying to be polite, but we’ve got to stop doing them pretty soon,” she said. “I really need to get to work.” Though she wouldn’t take office until January, she’d already moved into an empty room in the sheriff’s department—a drab warren in the basement of a county courts building—so that she could start to learn how to run a 1,785-person law enforcement agency. For its sheriff to be Hispanic, female, and gay “is a little different image than they’ve had before,” she said, “but what does that have to do with the ability to lead?”

Her victory might not have been big news had it happened in a more liberal city like Austin (where Margo Frasier,  also gay, just stepped down as Travis County sheriff), and it might not have drawn much attention had the 2004 elections produced gains for Democrats and gays nationwide. But this was a year when one vague exit poll question planted the notion that an unprecedented number of voters preoccupied by “values” had reelected President George W. Bush and that these values had something to do with opposing abortion and gay rights. (This exceedingly blurry notion persisted despite

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