Dallas Women’s Foundation will honor Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Judge Tonya Parker with its Maura McNeil Women Helping Women Award, which recognizes those who have led in improving the lives of North Texas women and girls.
Kristen Senters, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said Valdez “has transformed the demographics of the sheriff’s department,” and called Parker “a powerhouse.”
The award has been given annually since 1978 to anywhere from three to eight North Texas women. This isn’t the first time LGBT women have been honored: Martina Navratalova, who lived in Dallas at the time, was honored in 1980. Routh Street Women’s Clinic co-founder Charlotte Taft received the honor in 1981, and Barbara Rosenberg, who defeated bigoted Judge Jack Hampton, was honored in 1993.
This is the first time, however, two out lesbians have received the award in the same year.
“We sent out a call for nominations,” Senters said. “The women were nominated by women in the community.”
The selection committee was made up of former winners and other women in the community.
Senters said Valdez was chosen “hands down. She’s done so much.” She said the sheriff has been a role model who has changed the lives of many women and minorities.
Valdez was first elected sheriff in 2004, the first year that Democrats began winning office en masse in Dallas County. Since then, Democrats have gained a majority on the commissioners court and have won all county-wide elections each election since, with one exception: the 2016 district attorney’s race.
Valdez is the only Hispanic lesbian sheriff in the U.S., and just one of four female sheriffs in Texas. She is currently serving her fourth term and remains very popular across the county.
Not surprisingly, Valdez faced strong opposition from the majority of people working in the sheriff’s department when she first took office. But the new sheriff stressed that her door was open to all, and she invited members of the department to talk to her so that they could learn to respect each other and work together.
Some members of her department adapted to the change. Others quit or were let go, Valdez has said.
Senters said Valdez balanced the department — 50 percent of the staff now are women.
“When she walks in a room, she owns it,” Senters said. “Her presence and personality is an inspiration.”
Senters said Parker is also an inspiration, and she is delighted that the two women were selected for the McNeil award in the same year.
At a luncheon given for the winners, Senters said Parker addressed Valdez, telling her, “I want to take this opportunity to thank you.
You’re my inspiration.”
Senters said Parker told Valdez that her election and success as sheriff is what inspired her own run for judicial office. “If you can do it, I can do it,” Senters said Parker told Valdez.
Senters called Parker “a force for what she’s accomplished in such a short period of time.”
Parker was elected to the 116th Civil District Court in Dallas County in 2010 and is in her second four-year term. She currently serves as the presiding judge of the Dallas County Civil District Courts. She’s received the highest approval rating of any civil district judge.
Parker is the immediate past president of the Texas Association of District Judges, a non-partisan organization that monitors the Texas Legislature for bills that will affect the courts. She was elected as president of the TADJ while serving in her first term on the bench. She also volunteers with IGNITE, a non-partisan group that works with young women ages 14 to 22, aimed at developing their political ambition and training them how to run for public office.
Parker gained national attention soon after she was first sworn into office after she told Stonewall Dallas that she would not perform any marriages in her courtroom until she could marry any couple, regardless of sexual orientation. Video of her remarks went viral. Some conservatives in 2015 compare her decision with that of Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The difference, however, is that judges in Texas are not required to perform weddings but may as a perk of their office. It is one of the main official duties of Kentucky county clerks to issue marriage licenses. And while Parker’s stance treated all couples the same, Davis did not want to treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples.
After the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Obergefell decision making marriage equality the law of the land, other Dallas County judges allowed Parker to perform the ceremonial first same-sex wedding in Dallas County (after Judge Dennise Garcia married longtime couple Jack Evans and George Harris). And when Mark “Major” Jimenez and Beau Chandler married earlier this year, after several arrests prior to the Obergefell decision while trying to obtain a marriage license to spotlight the issue of discrimination against LGBT couple, Parker joyfully performed their wedding too.
Two other women will receive the Maura McNeil Award along with Parker and Valdez:
Hind El Saadi El Jarrah co-founded and serves as the executive director of the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation that empowers
Muslim women and their families and addresses their critical needs with counseling, legal services and play therapy. Madeline McClure is founding CEO of TexProtects to prevent child abuse.