Margo Frasier, Texas, 1996
Sheriff of Travis County
Elected November 1996
Interview with Margo Frasier for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: What was it like for you running for the office of Sheriff?
A: Sheriffs are a rather male bastion and there are about 25 of us female Sheriffs in the entire nation out of more than 3,000. So, that in itself is fairly unusual. One of the realities when I was running for office was that my opponent in the general election was the Chief Deputy of the department and he was being endorsed by the then Sheriff who was touting him as being the best thing in the world. I was endorsed by the Travis County Sheriff’s Officers Association, and that quite frankly, went a really long way in dealing with people who would say, “But she is a woman.” So they’d go, “Yeah, but the officers don’t seem to care.” Then they’d say, “Well we heard that she’s a lesbian.” And then they’d go, “Well, the officers don’t seem to care.” It was really helpful in terms of overcoming that stereotype. I know the main reason I got that endorsement was the fact that I had previously been with the department and had been a Captain before I left to go to law school. There were still enough folks around that had worked for me and with me, so I had a reputation of being a real professional who was very fair and a very compassionate boss.
Since that time, both in 1997 and ’98, I was given the Administrator of the Year Award by an organization called the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas which is a statewide police officers group. The first year I was given the award, my guys, my staff who had nominated me for the award, were kidding with me and telling me that they were taking some ribbing from some of the other officers who were saying, “look man, its bad enough you work for a woman, but then you have the nerve to nominate her as the Administrator of the Year?” They said it was pretty good-natured ribbing, but there was a kind of tone to it of, “what are you doing here?”
One of the things that women always face in this field is that people saying, “Well, they won’t be able to get along with the good ol’ boys, the rank and file.” So they were being kidded about the fact that they were kind of going against that. One of my guys told me that they said things like, “Well, you know we hear other things about her,” and he said, “yes, well, those were true, but what’s the deal? It doesn’t matter.”
I think it’s all just an indication of how when folks get in and do the job and do the job well, that gender or sexual orientation starts to become a real non-issue. I’m almost finishing my third year in office and its just not a big deal. We have an openly gay state Representative here in Austin, Glen Maxey, and it took Glen I think probably at least three terms in office before the paper stopped referring to him every time as the “openly gay legislator.” One of the things I didn’t want was anybody labeling me as “the woman Sheriff,” or “the lesbian Sheriff.” People don’t go around saying “the male Sheriff” or “the heterosexual Sheriff.” You’d never refer to people in those terms.
Q: How have your more socially conservative constituents responded to you?
A: One of the things that happened during my campaign is that folks would try to do the innuendo thing – before I was elected Sheriff I was an attorney doing mostly civil rights and employment law around the state and I was very successful at it. So one of the things they would do without outwardly bashing me was to say “Don’t you wonder what agenda she’s going to push? Why would somebody give up a lucrative law career to be the Sheriff and cut their income in half? I wonder what her agenda is?”
One day about a year and a half after the election one of the most conservative ministers called upon me because he needed my help. He needed my assistance on something, so I took care of the issue for him like I would any other constituent, and then he asked me, “How are you doing?” I sometimes will make it more of a business thing with constituents and say, “Well, how do you think I’m doing?” He said, “You know, I think you’re doing really quite well.” Then he said, “ I’ll admit to you, for the last year an a half I have tried to analyze everything you’ve done with the idea of asking ‘What is your real agenda related to your sexual preference?’ I keep trying to find it, and I can’t find it in anything you do that I can tell.” So I laughed and said, “and, no, you won’t be able to.”