Someone slashed a gay pride flag over the weekend that flew outside the Denton home shared by activists who support transgender people, immigrants and people of color. The vandal spray-painted "FAGS" on the house's garage door.
Police say that happened sometime after 11 p.m. Saturday, just hours after Deborah Armintor stepped outside Crossroads, a queer-friendly Denton bar, to declare a victory and give a thank-you speech for her win in a runoff election for an at-large Denton City Council seat.
Police haven't given any indication that the graffiti and Arminitor's win are anything more than coincidence, but some people on the left are suspicious. Whatever motivated the vandal, the suspicions highlight the cultural battle roiling city politics in Denton.
Five people live in the targeted house on Hillcrest Street, which has been a venue for networking events for queer people. Resident Dewey Marshall says he and his housemates discovered the vandalism around 4 a.m. Sunday. Marshall worked on Armintor’s campaign, and he says he thinks the vandalism was motivated either by the group’s support of LGBTQ people or his block walking for Armintor.
“I feel intimidated and scared for our house and for our residents,” Marshall says.
Armintor did not set out to be a candidate fighting ideological battles. Denton's City Council elections are nonpartisan, and the former member of the city’s public utilities board says she wanted to stick with issues like energy use.
In the weeks before the second round of voting in June, however, her runoff opponent, Aaron Newquist, issued an appeal to a historically reliable bloc of conservative voters in a retirement community called Robson Ranch. Newquist's campaign sent mailers to the area that jabbed at Armintor about her stance on social issues, suggesting she was too liberal for Denton. Among his arguments was her opposition to a Texas law banning so-called sanctuary cities for immigrants.
That didn't sit well, even with some of Newquist's supporters. Dalton Gregory, a former council member, had endorsed Newquist but later withdrew his support over the mailers' “underlying tone of racism."
Newquist's campaign and its supporters also took care to let voters know Armintor was a professor of LGBTQ studies at the University of North Texas. Newquist, a banker, says his point was to show voters he was more qualified to run a city than a liberal arts professor, not to undercut her for the subject material of her teachings. Still, some people in the community called Armintor "anti-family" and deemed her unfit for office.
“What really upset me was seeing whole communities being used as targets for fear mongering to try to get the far-right vote in a very partisan and cynical way,” Armintor says.
While her opponents attacked her for her stance on social issues, on the left she stood out as candidate who stood up for the disenfranchised. As it became clearer to her that people in the community looked to her for support, Armintor grew more vocal on LGBTQ issues. She wants LGBTQ people to be included in the list of groups protected by the city's anti-discrimination policy.
Armintor also contends Denton needs to improve its score in rankings done by the Human Rights Campaign, which regularly grades cities on how friendly they are toward LGBTQ people. Denton has mediocre marks. Armintor wants to solidify Denton as a queer-friendly place, and she condemned the weekend's vandalism.
Don Duff, a Republican who won another City Council seat, encouraged local conservatives to alert their circles to Armintor’s track record on LGBTQ issues. In an email, which was screen grabbed by the Armintor campaign, Duff wrote, “Deb is a far, far left liberal that supports sanctuary cities, believes in rent control and is a professor of LGBT studies at UNT.”
Duff says he doesn’t care about people’s sexuality. He has a neighbor who has gay children, so he’s doesn’t hate gay people, he says. He shared details about Armintor’s pro-LGBTQ career as a way to identify her, “to show people who she is,” rather than as a way to convince conservatives that she was dangerous politically to their causes, he says.
“I really don’t care about that,” he says of Armintor’s professorial work. “That’s not the reason I didn’t like her. The reason I did not like her is she was for sanctuary cities and rent control.”
In other words, he opposed her on the first two items he listed in his email: immigration and housing. The third item in the list — her area of study — was tacked on as an innocent FYI for voters.
Armintor won the runoff with about 54 percent of the vote.
“I feel like Denton voted for love over hate,” Armintor says. “That sends a really important message to the people who are in these targeted groups.”
By the time the council election results came in Saturday, Newquist had already deactivated his online accounts. He later returned to social media.
“I wanted to have a clean slate,” he told the Denton Record-Chronicle on Saturday night. He told the Observer that he had planned to delete his account whether or not he lost the election.
Police in Denton couldn’t do much more than file a report about the homophobic vandalism; they have no suspects. But the timing so close to Armintor’s win has people spooked. The town’s mayor officially recognized Pride Month this month for the first time. On June 30, LGBTQ people will march in Denton's second-ever pride parade.
Marshall and his colleagues are making the most out of the bad situation. By 6 a.m. Sunday, Marshall had started a GoFundMe fundraiser to raise money for OutReach Denton, an organization that supports young queer people. Marshall calls the vandalism a flash point in the city’s struggle for LGBTQ equality.
“There is a lot happening in Denton, but [this] is also an opportunity to show that we are a city of love,” Marshall says.
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Newquist calls the vandalism "abhorrent" and says he has been following the developments online and in the Record-Chronicle.
“There is absolutely zero connection between me and that horrible act that happened in our community," he says.
Kamyon Conner, a social worker who chairs OutReach Denton, calls the vandalism “a very violent message” to all those who advocate for LGBTQ people. She also says Armintor’s win is a good indicator as to how activists will defend themselves in political battles in the future.
“I think it shows a lot of citizens in Denton don’t want to tolerate bigotry or disrespect toward our citizens,” she says.