[Travis County Democrats will honor Bettie Naylor, Linda Chavez-Thompson and Bertha Means at our Trio of Stars Brunch on March 5. Click here for tickets and info.]
Married (to a man!) for 30 years, Bettie Naylor realized her true sexuality late in life. But once she did, she embraced it whole-heartedly and devoted herself to the pursuit of gay and lesbian rights.
A founder of Equality Texas, the Human Rights Campaign and Annie’s List, as well as a staunch advocate for OutYouth Austin, Naylor retired from her successful lobbying career in 2009 but remains an enthusiastic supporter of the cause.
At 83, the pixie-like spitfire moves fast, talks fast (sprinkling a little salt along the way) and shares a stunning 16th floor condo overlooking the Capitol with her beloved partner of eight years, Libby Sykora. The glass-walled living room is filled with photos (of her three children and three grandchildren, her partner and herself with VIPs like Hillary Clinton), brightly colored furniture (a mix of Mexican folk and modern), a wall-hung flat-screen TV (she’s a fan of “Glee”), modern art and a couple of slinky cats (Luca and J.C.).
On the cold, windy day that Rick Perry gave his delusional State of the State address, Naylor perched lotus-style on an overstuffed chair in her home, the sounds of protesters wafting through the glass, and talked about the cause she champions and the love she shares. Upbeat, optimistic and quick to laugh, she is a true Austin treasure.
QUESTION: As the first official gay-lesbian lobbyist in Texas in the 1970s, how would you describe the changes you’ve seen and helped foster over the years?
NAYLOR: In the mid-‘60s I lobbied for women’s rights and then switched to gay rights after I became aware of my sexuality. I just hated the way gays were discriminated against. So I helped organize the Gay-Lesbian Task Force in the late ‘60s, before the Human Rights Campaign.
I’m amazed at the changes, although I would like to see things change more rapidly. But I think we’re far more acceptable to people now than we ever were. I think some of that has to do with the young gay people who don’t keep their sexuality a secret any more. They’re comfortable being who they are, and they’re not ashamed.
You know, I was married for 30 years to a military pilot, and I was ‘outed’ by the San Antonio News-Express — on the front page and with a picture! Because of that, I have never hidden my sexuality, and now I’m very proud of it.
QUESTION: Austin has a reputation for being progressive, but even here we see reports of beatings, bullying and name-calling from time to time. Do you think we’ll ever be rid of that kind of behavior?
NAYLOR: For a few years to come, I think we’ll see that continue, but I think it will go away. It’s like people used to call African-Americans the ‘n’ word all the time, but they don’t do that any more.
QUESTION: How do you feel about the long-awaited repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell?
NAYLOR: It’s wonderful. It should have passed a long time ago. I think it hasn’t been as difficult, once it passed, as people thought it would. And I think the reason for that probably is President Obama.
QUESTION: What are the chances for gay marriage to become legal? In Texas and many other states, it’s unconstitutional. By the way, are you and Libby married?
NAYLOR: No, we’re not married. We would have to go somewhere else to get married. If it were legal in Texas, absolutely we would get married. You know, I lobbied for gay rights for all those years in the legislature, and the one session I didn’t work (2005), Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) passed that constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage! But I think that will change.
QUESTION: What do you make of the political climate in the state and the country right now? Are we doomed to be over-taken by the backward-thinking Tea Party and Sarah Palin supporters?
NAYLOR: It’s really interesting. I like Sarah Palin’s looks, but I always wonder how a woman who looks like that can be such a butt. To tell you the truth, I really don’t pay as much attention to politics as I used to. I didn’t pay attention to the Tea Party. If I had been lobbying in the legislature when that started happening, I don’t know what I would have done, maybe gotten a baseball bat.
QUESTION: Not to get too personal, but you are clearly head over heels in love with Libby. The pictures of the two of you in here are just beautiful. Tell me about your partner.
NAYLOR: (Whispering and grinning) I give thanks to God for her every day of my life. She really is just outstanding. I was not very good in a relationship. I was always too busy in politics. I had dated other women, but I met Libby when I was counting votes in Dana DeBeauvoir’s office one night. I invited her over for dinner a few times, and I thought, ‘Damn! I like her!’ All of my kids and all of my friends just love her. She’s really special.