The moment was subtle, just a couple holding hands as they walked into Houston’s City Council chamber, a ritual for incoming members that had passed hundreds of times before with little fanfare.
But this time was different.
The two people holding hands were women. One was Annise Parker, a newly elected councilwoman. The other was Kathy Hubbard, her life partner.
“It was huge,” Hubbard said of the ceremonial council session in 1998. “So many barriers were being broken at the time, so much was possible. It was something that seems ordinary for most people, but there are invisible or cloaked boundaries for gay and lesbian people. You hear of the marble ceiling, the glass ceiling, the concrete ceiling. … This one’s almost the invisible one, but it’s still there.”
A tax consultant with auburn hair and the remnants of a northeastern accent, Hubbard has a reputation as a shy and reserved — yet steadfast — presence in Parker’s life. Although she has maintained a modicum of privacy during her partner’s 12 years in public office, that may be harder to maintain as worldwide attention thrusts Mayor-elect Parker, and their relationship, into the spotlight.
Exile from the cold
Raised in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., Hubbard said she spent most of her childhood longing for a warmer climate. She found that in Houston, following her sister here in the early 1980s. As Hubbard was building her bookkeeping practice in 1990, she went to the Inklings bookstore in Montrose, which Parker co-owned, to see if the business needed her services.
They already had a tax preparer, but Parker signed her on for her personal taxes, and they gradually hit it off.
Over the years, Hubbard often has joined Parker in opening their home to difficult, and occasionally challenging, situations.
In 1993, Parker had seen 16-year-old Jovon Tyler on the streets several times before she talked to him. He always looked hungry. Once she met him, he told her his grandparents had kicked him out of the house because he was gay.
Parker invited him to come live with her and Kathy and gave him a set of keys to the house before conferring with Kathy. On her way home, Parker agonized about how she would break the news to her companion.
He now calls each of them “mother” and they call him “son.” Tyler, 33, graduated Saturday from mortuary school with Parker and Hubbard at his side.
Hubbard also played a vital role in caring for Parker’s ailing grandparents. In 2003, Parker and Hubbard decided to adopt two girls, sisters Marquitta, then 7, and Daniela, 12.
The spouses of Houston’s last three mayors each took to the role differently. Frances Young, wife of Mayor Lee P. Brown and a public school teacher, had little public profile. Elyse Lanier, wife of Mayor Bob Lanier, kept an office at City Hall and worked on special events and issues within the parks department. Andrea White, a lawyer and author, has kept a presence somewhere in between, speaking at occasional events and launching an initiative with her husband to persuade at-risk students to stay in school.
“Your biggest role is to be supportive of your partner,” Elyse Lanier said. “You basically give up everything else when you take on a job like mayor, so you have to be 100 percent supportive and with Annise being elected before, they are used to this.”
Hubbard said she has not decided what role she will play, given that she will continue to run her financial services business and will need to pick up the slack at home.
She said she plans to have some public profile, perhaps comparable to Andrea White, although it may take a few more weeks or months to consider what issues she has time to champion.