"I always had this sense of justice and fairness." says Chad Reumann, President of PFLAG San Antonio (Parents, Families, Friends and Allies United with the LGBTQ community). But everything changed for him in 2006. He was going to check the mail late at night when he was held up at gun point. During the incident he feared for his life, which caused him to reassess everything. Chad calls it the birth of his activism.
In 2007, he joined the Humans Rights Campaign. There, he served on the board of governors and reached out to other LGBTQ+ (initialism for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and all aspects of the larger community) organizations in the San Antonio area. It only took attending one event for him to fall in love with PFLAG, an organization that promotes the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ persons as well as their friends and family through support, advocacy and education. He was elected president of the group in 2016.
Recently, Chad was appointed to the Mayor's LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee. "I think that's a major step," he says, "when you have the support of your local government." Chad has seen a lot change since he arrived in San Antonio in 2002.
His barometer has long been the Pride Parades. These events have increased in size every year that he has lived in the city. "The parade is really a symbolic thing," he explains. Its increasing popularity reflects a growth of resources and organizations within the San Antonio LGBTQ+ community.
President of PFLAG San Antonio Chad Reumann at Houston Street in Downtown San Antonio. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
These trends are part of a larger historical narrative, according to Dr. Amy Stone at Trinity University. "I think it's important for the LGBTQ+ community to have a history. To have a sense of who we are as a community," she says.
Dr. Stone is a professor of sociology whose research focuses on the history of the LGBTQ+ community. Her most famous work, Cornyation: San Antonio's Outrageous Fiesta Tradition documents the history of the popular event and how it ties to acceptance in society.
"What surprised me," says Dr. Stone, "was the event designers at the time, many of whom were sophisticated, urban men- bachelors- were sort of known for being gay. And were quite accepted for that. They were quite talented, very involved in the arts, and they were very appreciated for this event that they put on every year."
These pockets of acceptance paint a more nuanced history of the community, says Dr. Stone. While Cornyation was kicked out in the 60s for being too "out there," it was in the 80s at the ballroom of the Bonham Exchange where it was reborn. Tickets were sold only at the door and the show started at 11 p.m. after NIOSA (A Night in Old San Antonio.) San Antonio has had a long and complicated relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, just as the community has had a long and complicated road to acceptance.
Professor of Sociology Dr. Amy Stone at Trinity University. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
David Solis is the Director of Advocacy and former President of the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce. He works downtown as the Head of Security Operations at IBC Bank. "My view of San Antonio has shifted," he says. Initially, he was not confident of how accepting or open the city was, but has seen the community come together around LGBTQ+ persons and help them protest discriminatory legislation, such as Texas Senate Bill 6 in 2017.
Additionally, David has seen the rise of industries in downtown's tech district and is encouraged by their commitment to inclusiveness. "Allies are super important to our community," he explains. He saw this commitment exemplified at a Tech Bloc event at Con Safos last week, where Pride Portraits took pictures to increase the visibility of the community in San Antonio. "Having these pride events unites everybody," he says, "It reminds everybody that the struggle is always there."
Director of Advocacy and former President of the San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce David Solis at the RiverWalk in Downtown San Antonio.
Current and future struggles within the community are a concern for Greg Casillas, Life Skills Program Manager at Thrive Youth Center. He works with youth at the only organization dedicated specifically to homeless LGBTQ+ youth in the city.
Rates of poverty and homelessness are higher in the LGBTQ+ community. Greg works with this vulnerable population on the campus of Haven For Hope, teaching life skills so that they can provide for themselves. "There's so many layers of trauma and experience," he says of the kids. But through trust building and truly listening to them, the program enjoys a high rate of success.
Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Thrive is able to offer rent assistance to members of the program while they work or go to school. "It's nice being the gay dad to thirty kids," Greg laughs.
In addition to homelessness, Greg highlights a need for improved health care and senior services in the LGBTQ+ community. He gives the example of assisted living. If he and his partner need to enter a care center later in life, they will not be protected by the laws that protect straight couples.
The community has come a long way, but still has struggles ahead. For Greg, having pride in oneself is paramount. "My father told me the most important word in any language is your name," he remembers, "When someone says our name wrong, we correct them. Pride means who I am. That's why it's important."
Thrive Youth Center Life Skills Program Manager Greg Casillas at Haven for Hope. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
June is international Pride Month, honoring the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York which catalyzed the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. San Antonio's 2018 Pride Parade will take place at 9 p.m. on June 30th along North Main. Visit pridesanantonio.org for more info.
Top photo: Michael Cirlos for the Rivard Report