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Houston Candidate Faces Backlash Over ‘Homophobic’ Ad

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Photo of the controversial Rodriguez campaign ad. (credit: The Manuel Rodriguez Campaign)

Photo of the controversial Rodriguez campaign ad. (credit: The Manuel Rodriguez Campaign)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – A Houston candidate is facing backlash after taking aim at his gay opponent’s sexual orientation in a new campaign advertisement.

Recently, Manuel Rodriguez Jr. — who is running for another term as trustee for the Houston Independent School District — began sending out a campaign flier attacking the sexual orientation of his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. One of Rodriguez’s main points harped on how Fonseca’s “records show he spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights … not kids.” Since then, Rodriguez has been met with criticism from gay rights and city leaders alike in Houston, which was the first major city to elect an openly gay mayor with Annise Parker’s win in 2009.

The ad goes on to note Fonseca’s endorsement by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Other bullet points against Fonseca include how he’s a 54-year-old man with no children and that he has a male partner. Rodriguez goes on to further highlight the differences using sexual orientation, noting how he’s a “family man,” married to his high school sweetheart, and has four children and five grandchildren.

The fallout from the campaign ad has already been damaging ahead of tomorrow’s election. On Sunday, the Houston Chronicle rescinded its endorsement of Rodriguez, saying the ad was “obvious gay-bashing, of the kind that HISD rightly prohibits on the playground. It has no place on HISD’s board.” The Houston GLBT Political Caucus issued a statement of its own, ripping the candidate. Noel Freeman, the president of the group, told KHOU-TV that the flier is blatantly homophobic. Freeman told CBS Houston that although it is  disappointing that Rodriguez would go that route, it just wasn’t going to work in Houston.

“It is surprising in this day and age that people still think it’s a good idea,” Freeman said. “It’s just not, especially in Houston. It just doesn’t play. It’s a sign of desperation.”

But Rodriguez sees it differently, telling the Chronicle that he’s received encouragement in the wake of the ad, adding that he didn’t see anything offensive about it. People have even called to thank him.

“They were glad someone had the courage to take a stand and tell the truth,” he said. “This was not done with malice or hate. It was just to inform the voters of their choice of candidates for this office.”

This isn’t the first time Rodriguez, 60, and Fonseca, 54, have crossed each other’s paths. Rodriguez, the president of MARVAA, a small business that provides assistance to education and housing and community development, defeated Fonseca, program manager of Houston Community College’s minority male initiative, in the same southeast HISD race in 2003.

Fonseca’s campaign would not comment, but released a statement on the matter.

“I am saddened that my opponent wants to conduct his campaign with offensive language,” Fonseca said in the statement. “Over the next few days I will continue to engage the voters of District III on issues that are important to the parents, students, teachers and taxpayers of HISD.”

Messages left by CBS Houston for Rodriguez and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus were not immediately returned. Both officials from HISD and the mayor’s office told CBS Houston that statements will be prepared, but have not been made public yet. Aside from Parker being the first openly gay mayor in a major U.S. city, she also endorsed Fonseca’s candidacy in September.

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