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Gay Democrat Jeffrey Payne Vows To Take Texas Politics Out Of The Toilet

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Gubernatorial candidate refuses to hide his sexual orientation, leather lifestyle.

BY HARDY HABERMAN

When a friend says they “need to talk,” it’s usually something serious. That was the case when my friend Jeffrey Payne sent me a note with those three words in it. Over dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, I soon understood just how serious he was.

“I’m going to run for governor and I’d like your help,” he told me.

Yup! Pretty serious indeed.

Over a long meal, he laid out his reasons for running and made the pitch for me to come on board with the campaign. It was a convincing argument, and frankly it was right up my alley.

After discussing the idea with my partner, Patrick, I accepted and made plans to retire from my career in marketing with FedEx Office, and begin a new chapter as the media director for Payne’s campaign. It was a big commitment and one I did not take lightly. Here’s why I did it:

First, politics in Texas has gotten to the level of certifiably unhinged. The recent kerfuffle over the so called “bathroom bill” shows how insane things are. There is no threat from “sneaky transgender people” in bathrooms and changing rooms. They go there for the same reason everyone else does. Statistics show that people are much more likely to be molested by a politician in a public restroom than a transgender person. I see no “Politician Prevention Acts” in the near future, though perhaps that would be a good idea.

One of Payne’s main points was bringing some sanity to Texas politics, and that alone would have been enough to sway me. The Texas Legislature concerns itself with a lot of issues, but frankly most are political posturing and have little benefit for Texans. The primary concern seems to be re-election at any cost, and that leads to a lot of fear-mongering and zany bills that are designed to garner votes. I sometimes give thanks that the Legislature only meets once every two years.

Payne is also very adamant about reforming our broken education system in the state. Funding education is a constitutional obligation (Article 7 of the Texas State Constitution), and the current push for school vouchers is an attempt to channel state funds to private companies rather than public schools. This would create a two-tiered educational system and financially and academically damage public schools in Texas. He told me he thought it was time we put education back in the hands of educators and take politicians out of it.

Payne also told me of his commitment to democracy. He wants to restore free and transparent elections that offer every Texan the opportunity to express their views at the ballot box. That means eliminating laws that are designed to disenfranchise minority populations. It also means taking a long hard look at the redistricting of our state to eliminate gerrymandering.

The conversation covered a variety of issues, but one that I was delighted he didn’t dodge is his background and who he is as a person. Payne is an openly gay man and is married to his husband, Sergio. He is also a former International Mr. Leather, a title that allowed him to travel the world and bolster his philanthropic work. He is the founder of the Sharon St. Cyr Fund— a nonprofit organization that raises funds and provides hearing aids for hearing-impaired individuals and provides grants to organizations for interpreting services. Jeffrey owns a court reporting firm, a land holding company and a property management firm as well as a nightclub and clothing store. The club, the Dallas Eagle, is a popular LGBTQ establishment with a decidedly “leather” flavor.

Instead of hiding those facts, he made the decision to lead with them, and I agreed wholeheartedly. There is no shame in being gay or embracing your sexuality, and once you have that fact out there in the open, it diffuses the ability to have it used against you. Not surprisingly, that openness has garnered a lot of attention in the press, which gives him a platform to share his ideas for Texas and his values.

Instead of shying away from the discussion of “values,” Payne embraces it. He freely talks of “real Texas values” like integrity, honesty, equality, and responsibility, as well as generosity, kindness and family. He envisions Texas as a big family of rugged individuals yet a family with a shared destiny. “Like the Lone Star, we may stand on our own, but we do it knowing without our fellow Texans standing with us, we cannot shine into our full potential.”

And with that, I signed on to what I sincerely believe will be a historic campaign and one that will positively change Texas’ future.

For more on Payne’s campaign, visit Jeffrey4Texas.com.•

Hardy Haberman is an author, longtime LGBTQ activist, and co-chair of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation in Washington. He now serves as media director for the Jeffrey Payne for Governor campaign.

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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