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51%- Are women better leaders?

Human rights fans and LGBT folks across the globe are hopeful the victory of Houston Mayor-elect Annise Parker will mark a new era for equality. She is the first openly gay Mayor elected to one of America’s top ten sized cities, which happens to be in Texas

In the face of recent political blows to lgbt equality, it’s easy to claim this win as cause for celebration. The majority of Californians who voted stole marriage equality from its state. The majority of Mainers who cast ballots erased marriage equality for its constituents

Elected leaders shot down marriage equality for New Yorkers. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is currently attempting to block the marriage equality ordinance accepted by Washington DC City Councilmembers.

Annise Parker is a dedicated life partner and mother. She proved her loyalty to service with an impressive six wins to office, first to City Council, then as City Controller. Her year-long battle to win as Mayor included a clean campaign amidst dirty politicking from conservatives intent on demonizing her sexual identity. Despite the fact that her term as City Controller has shown her as an inclusive leader with diverse skills, her opposition often focused on her bedroom practices.

While LGBT visibility can foster acceptance in our broader communities, we aren’t convinced that straight folks will see the benefit of having a leader who happens to be lesbian, unless we prove that being a lesbian makes her a better leader.

Proving this isn’t easy.

In speaking with politically active members of the local LGBT community and in our online search, we’ve so far only found assumptions. We asked previous San Diego Deputy Mayor, openly lesbian Toni Atkins if she were aware of research to indicate the positives of an LGBT candidate for non-LGBT communities. We asked openly lesbian Senator Christine Kehoe the same thing. Neither knew the answer, but both gave good leads as to where to continue our search.

Conversely, when we ask women politics buffs about women in power, each knows of research indicating women leaders uplift more than just other women. The histories of how women lead reveal that women are more altruistic than men.

If you believe that collaborations and community are stronger than independent rule and privilege, you may want a woman in charge. If you believe education and health are worthy for securing the future, you may prefer a woman principal. If we want equality between the genders, we probably have to convince both men and women that both men and women will benefit from women leaders.

Although many of us have heard “if women lead the world we’d be a more peaceful planet,” it helps if facts back up the claim. Winning in politics is about presenting believable evidence.

This autumn we attended a lecture by author and researcher, Nicholas Kristof who presented his findings at a UCSD forum. He and his wife’s work in studying global populations reveals that when disempowered, uneducated women in developing countries are educated and given opportunity, they eagerly rise to the challenge. The couple found the majority of these women became economic leaders within their households and respected members of their communities. The Kristofs discovered that when women earn, they re-invest in their families, neighborhoods, and their businesses. They found that men who earn often splurge on alcohol, gambling and prostitution.

Last summer we attended a Run Women Run event with author and lecturer, Laura Liswood. She presented her research about women leaders around the globe. In her book, Women World Leaders, she personally catalogued and interviewed every female Head of State she could find. Through her questions about how they differed from their male predecessors and how they were leading their communities, Liswood found strong trends. The women in power were more likely to be comprehensive in their policy making, they were very likely to provide equal access and quality education for both boys and girls, and they were extremely likely to build coalitions within their governments. She found that women leaders legislate differently, they collaborate and are inclusive. They tend to rule with an open hand, instead of an iron fist.

At a time when less than 20% of U.S. cities of 30,000 or more have women Mayors, we’re happy to have one more woman to tip the scale.

The evidence supporting women as philanthropic leaders is consistent. We have yet to prove lesbian leaders are as beneficial to straight allies as women leaders are to men, but we commemorate the win of Mayor-elect Annise Parker, just the same. Although most celebrate her as simply a win for the lgbt community, we celebrate her as a win for women in politics. We know, as a woman leader, she’s more likely to benefit the entire population of Houston than if she were a man. We applaud the progress.