The Austin Chronicle

Making Hay Out of Gay

October 30, 1998, News

Glen Maxey

Fred Ebner

One might think that this year's general election contest for the District 51 seat in the state House of Representatives is proof of how far the state's gay and lesbian community has come politically. Both incumbent Democrat Glen Maxey, and Fred Ebner, his Republican challenger, are gay. But the fact that the district is home to the state's first election contested by openly gay nominees of the two major parties impresses neither candidate.

In fact, Ebner says he had hoped that with both nominees being gay, Maxey's sexual orientation would no longer attract the attention it has in past contests for the seat. "The whole idea of my running was to get the gay issue off the table so we could concentrate on the important issues for the people of District 51," says Ebner, 74, who retired after a career in college textbook publishing. "The media has kidnapped this and is turning it into a story that's worthy of the Enquirer."

For his part, Maxey questions the assumption that the November election has any real historical significance, claiming that Ebner played down his sexual orientation in order to win the Republican nomination against two opponents. "I don't believe voters in the district knew he was gay when they voted for him," he says.

Ebner, in fact, is annoyed when someone refers to him as the openly gay Republican candidate. "I'm not the gay Republican candidate,"he says. "I am the moderate Republican candidate." Ebner, who was endorsed by the Log Cabin Republicans, says that Maxey, who was endorsed by the Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus, has focused too much of his time on gay issues: "He has made a profession out of gay advocacy."

Maxey, however, considers his legislative work on behalf of gays and lesbians an important part of his job. "I'm sorry, but I'm the only openly gay person up there [in the Legislature] in a right-wing, homophobic state," he says. But the four-term legislator also points to 130 bills he filed in the last session of the Legislature. "By any stretch of the imagination, only two could be related to gay issues," Maxey says – a stronger law on hate crimes, and a law against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Other legislation included measures to fight Medicaid fraud, improve the efficiency of state agencies, and streamline the process for receiving state human-services benefits, he says.

Ebner says that, on gay issues, he and Maxey have many common positions. Ebner supports, for example, a stronger hate-crimes law, and he opposes efforts to ban adoption by gay and lesbian Texans. But Ebner says he's been focusing mainly on issues like Austin's worsening traffic congestion, Gov. George W. Bush's proposed program for school vouchers (which he supports), and Maxey'sopposition to legislation that would reduce Capital Metro's sales tax. Ebner is particularly upset by Maxey's efforts to block legislation that would require a public referendum on any proposed light-rail system in Austin. "It would be absolutely morally wrong not to let the citizens vote on it," he says.

Maxey defends his positions on Capital Metro, saying that public transportation – light rail and otherwise – is an important part of the solution for easing the traffic congestion that Ebner is talking about. Legislation to cut Capital Metro's sales tax would have killed public transportation, he says: "We need to reform Capital Metro, but we don't need to kill it."

One might be excused for wondering whether the policy positions or sexual orientation of the two candidates makes any difference in District 51 anyway. After all, most political observers believe angels will be ice skating in hell before a Republican wins the heavily Democratic district. "Let's berealistic," says Ebner, whose Reeboks are showing the wear of 13 months of door-to-door campaigning. "I'm a long shot, the underdog. But sometimes the underdog wins. That's why we have elections." True. After all, who other than Maxey thought in 1991 that an openly gay man could win election to the Texas Legislature? – D.Q.

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