When the news of America’s biggest mass shooting struck San Antonio residents, local activists responded quickly to the needs of the LGBTQ community. City and state representatives, alongside community organizers, wasted no time in arranging a vigil to allow LGBTQ persons and allies to mourn the Orlando victims.
“I think after events like this, especially because this has now become the worst American tragedy in history, there is a period of self-reflection on behalf of the country,” stated Congressman Joaquin Castro.
This period of silent reflection could be seen across hundreds of faces that showed up to support Orlando victims at Crockett Park on 12 June 2016.
“The community organically responded to the tragedy that happened in Orlando, Florida,” said Julian Tovar, Community Organizer and Board Member for Equality Texas. “Through that, I felt it was really necessary to… mobilize everyone, to have a space to honor... those who have been lost.”
San Antonio residents welcomed the presence of important city and state political figures including Councilman Ron Nirenberg, State Representative Diego Bernal, Congressman Joaquin Castro, and Chief of Police, William McManus.
McManus reassured the public that the San Antonio Police Department takes the issue of LGBTQ safety seriously.
“I want you to feel safe,” said McManus to the crowd, “But, we ask you to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings… No one is going to hurt you, as long as SAPD is here for you.”
Despite the words of comfort, the LGBTQ community still has important questions when it comes to their physical and fiscal safety in San Antonio.
Robert Salcido stressed the importance of reconnecting locals with the SAPD following the recent retirement of LGBTQ liaison, Deputy Chief Jose Banales.
“San Antonio Police Department has been an ally for many years,” said Salcido. “My question to Chief McManus would be, who is our new LGBT liaison and how can we facilitate that discussion so that we have a working relationship with that individual?”
Salcido also expressed the need to expand San Antonio’s anti-discrimination laws to include more than just city employees and city contractors.
In 2013, the City of San Antonio updated their Non-Discrimination Ordinance to include sexual orientation and LGBT persons as a protected class. The ordinance was updated to “provid[e] protections in the areas of city employment, city contracts and subcontracts, appointments to Boards and Commissions, discriminatory housing practices, and places of public accommodation.”
Since 2013, the ordinance has not expanded to private employment, an issue that many local LGBT people take issue with.
“As a city we need to make sure everybody’s protected, and that they’re not fired from their jobs simply for who they are or who they love,” said Salcido.
According to Congressman Joaquin Castro, changing conditions for LGBT people in San Antonio comes down to changing people’s hearts and minds first and foremost.
“I still believe we need to expand our anti-discrimination laws,” said Castro. “But a lot of this stuff is not just a matter of changing the letter of the law, but the spirit of the people.”
The vigil was more than just a place to mourn. It also gave an opportunity to local figures, such as comedian Joan Riviera, to demand acceptance and love for community members all sexual and gender identities.
“This is the day that I come out and say, I’m comedian Joan Riviera and I’m a proud transgender comedian,” announced Riviera. “Be true to yourself, find your mission and give it back to people like me, who need a hug, who need love.”
Candidate for State Representative, Diana Arevolo, believes we are all a part of the LGBTQ community.
"I figured if it could happen [in Orlando] in could happen here too," said Arevolo. "So many of us are so close in San Antonio, and we all have friends or family that are part of the LGBT community. I consider myself a part of that because of my friendships..."