My Two cents: Elisa Chan and the #NDO4SA

I live in San Antonio, Texas.  I’m a lesbian. I am brown.

My life experiences have fortunately taken me to many places in the U.S. and the world.  I have heard over and over again, “Yikes, you live in Texas,” or, “sorry, that must be hard,” or the occasional “No need to even vote in Texas, super red state,” and, “You should move,” and my personal favorite…”Don’t you just LOVE the Alamo?”  No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was.

So yes, I am quite aware of the perceptions that other more “progressive” parts of our country think of Texas, and must imagine our lives to be.  And, they would be right in certain cases.  For instance, one of our City Council Members was recently caught spewing ignorance and hate in a staff meeting.  Seriously? Ugh.

Now, I am not naive enough to think that because we have “come so far,”  it means that we are now free to hold hands with our partners and skip down the streets in our rainbow attire, all the while having passersby gleam at us with gushing sentiments of approval.  (I actually think that would be a fun day though)  However, I do think that an elected representative must at the very least, NOT think her constituents are “disgusting.”  Hmmm, maybe there are no LGBT people in her district… Um No.  Watch this.  Yes, we are everywhere in San Antonio.  Tan tan tan!!!

That being said, perhaps she should not be in office. Ex Council Member Leticia Ozuna recently called for just that, Chan’s resignation, when it was revealed that during the full version of the recording, Chan made disparaging remarks about Ozuna’s family and her transgender life partner.  Cheers to Ozuna for “coming out” to everyone!  Seriously, putting a well known and respected face on “disgusting” makes reasonable, non-bigoted people say “Hey, hold your horses there ma’am!”  That’s exactly the point.

Now, forgive me for backtracking…I am convinced I have untreated A.D.D., but in case you are not aware, all of this comes on the heels of A LOT of hard work done by some amazing people.  C.A.U.S.A. has been working with both local and national organizations to update San Antonio’s Non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and Veteran status.  Yes, we also have gay veterans in San Antonio. Who’d a thunk it?  What does this mean? Councilman Diego Bernal breaks it down here.  Perhaps a bit over simplified, but sometimes simple is good.  What he does not explain in this bulleted breakdown, is what it actually means to these communities.

I know that for me, it means that my city values my contribution.  It means that as a lesbian, I can be confident in my position as a Director of an empowerment program for girls, because my community stands behind me, because no matter my sexual orientation, I do my job well, and deserve equal protection under the law. Here is a bit that I found particularly offensive in Chan’s discussion.

“If you wanted to choose that lifestyle, we don’t want to discriminate you, but you shouldn’t affect the young people,” she continues. “How terrible. … They’re going to be confused. You see two men go into a bedroom. You see two women kissing. Is that not confusing? It’s confusing.“It is actually, what you call, suggestive, for the kids to be corrupt, which is against nature. I’m telling you, anything that is against nature is not right.”

Um, excuse me Ms. Chan, but that shit doesn’t fly with me.  I LOVE kids, though as of yet I have none of my own. Perhaps I’ll adopt. Moreover, I love the kids I work with enough to “suggest” to them things such as higher education, civic engagement, community responsibility, using their voices against oppression (ehhem), love, kindness, and self worth. Shameful I tell you!

All  snark aside, this ordinance is important to a hell of a lot of people.  It’s important to me, and for my future, but it is also important for future generations.  Schools all over the nation have anti-bullying programs now, and that’s great, but if our policies continue to relegate certain communities to that of second class citizens, then there is not a bullying program on the planet that can stop violence and discrimination against LGBT people.  Our policies have the power to change culture.  They at the very least give the protected class protection against those who may want to do harm.  And I hate to state the obvious, but Chan makes a pretty good case for us needing the ordinance updated. Just sayin’.

My friend who told me I should move comes to mind.  I love you friend, but the answer is a resounding no. Not now. Not anytime soon. THIS is where the work has to be done.  We cannot leave this place to the bigots and the willfully ignorant.  No way, no how.

Here is a link to C.A.U.S.A’s petition to City Council.  The ordinance will be voted on by City Council September 5th.  I will be there with my red shirt on, in support of Equality and Fairness in San Antonio.

*To our City Council Members who support Equality and Fairness, thank you.  To those who don’t…step it up. Be on the right side of history. (I’m talking to you Ivy Taylor)

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Dia de Los Muertos

Today is November 1st.  Halloween parties have ceased and I only have gummy bears left in my candy jar.  We had our students color decorated skeleton masks and dedicate them to someone they have loved and lost.  It may seem morbid to some, but to me, and many of my culture, November 1st is a day to celebrate the lives of those who have passed.

My mother and I make a traditional altar every year. It has pictures of family members who we have lost, along with their favorite foods, and drinks, and trinkets. Sadly, we have added one more picture this year. After the altar is finished, all there is left to do is remember.

My Grandma was one of 11 children.  She was born in Terlingua, Texas in 1915.  She only finished up to the 6th grade, but she was the wisest woman I have ever known.  She had 6 children, one of whom died at the age of 3.  My brother is named after him. My grandfather was a hard worker, but an alcoholic.  My grandmother left him, but wanted to be buried next to him when she died. She was.  She knew English, but refused to speak it. She was a cook at an Italian restaurant in El Paso, Texas. I always remember her hating pizza and spaghetti.  She paid $12,000 for her small two-bedroom house.  I remember her always telling me how important it was that I finish school.  She warned that without it, I would be “dumb” like her.  We both knew she wasn’t.

She taught me to sing by loving singing herself, and if I close my eyes I can hear her deep melodic voice.

“Tengo una muneca vestida de azul, con sus medias blancas y sombrero azul.”

I still remember all the coros she sang to me, and sometimes I sing them out loud to myself…and she is with me.

In my early twenties I took my then partner home for the holidays.  I was the defiant niece who refused to hide in the closet or behind closed doors.  I never told my grandmother, but during that visit, she called my female partner my “husband,” in front of all of my family.  I never heard a negative thing about my being gay from anyone in my family again.

………………………………….

My Uncle Ray lived in Corpus Christi, Texas for all of the time that I knew him.  He was the only man in my life of any consequence.  I didn’t really know my father until I was 18. (a story for another day) My mother and I spent as much time with him as we could. We both adored him.  We lived with him when I was very young, and then moved back to El Paso at some point that I don’t remember.  Even in El Paso, so far away, my mother would curb bad behavior by telling me she was going to tell Uncle Ray. The behavior stopped.

Uncle Ray was a Vietnam Vet, and we always knew there were things we couldn’t talk to him about. Sometimes he would fall silent, and we knew he was somewhere else. Other times I remember hearing him sob from behind his bedroom door.  He wasn’t a mean man, but he rubbed and pinched my cheeks red when I told him I wanted to wear makeup. I didn’t ask again.

We went to the beach a lot. That was our favorite place. One time he was stung by a man o’ war. We were scared.  Another time a drunk man in a truck almost ran over me and my cousin while we were making sand castles. He pulled the man out of his truck. I didn’t see what happened next.

He didn’t like tv, but he loved his guitar, and so after dinner we would gather in his small livingroom and he would hand us instruments.  My favorite was a percussion instrument that had rows of silver beads you would turn with you palm. To this day I have no idea what it is called.

My mom would sit in the most coveted place in the room, by his side.  He would begin to strum Neil Young, and I would wait in anticipation of my mother’s amazing voice.

……………………………………….

My Aunt Julie lived in Philadelphia. She passed away this summer.  She had a beautiful family of a husband and three boys, one of whom is gay.  According to stories I’ve heard throughout the years, she never liked school.  My grandmother would drag her there by her braids.  She was a stubborn woman.  It runs in the family.

I didn’t get to spend enough time with her, but this Spring I was sent to D.C. for work and I was able to drive up and see her.  I am so grateful for that now.

Today is a day to remember, but it is also a day for the living to celebrate life.

It’s a time for us to be grateful for all the beauty and wisdom that has been passed on to us.

I remember, and I am most certainly filled with gratitude. Thank you.

Aunt Julie