Small-town gay life

GAY MICROCOSM | With fewer than 50,000 residents, San Luis de la Paz doesn’t even have a gay bar, but that hasn’t stopped queer Dallasites from calling it home. (Photos by Jesus Chairez)

JESUS CHAIREZ  | Special Contributor
chairezstudio@gmail.com

SAN LUIS DE LA PAZ, Guanajuato, México — No rainbow flags, no gay bars, no Pride parade, but for ex-Dallasites Ron Austin and Lamar Strickland, this small Mexican town has plenty of gay life in it.

Austin and Strickland sold most everything and packed up what they could, moving to San Luis de La Paz four years ago. Austin says that he first discovered San Luis years ago when accompanied his best friend Manolo Arrendondo, also from Dallas, back home to visit his family for Christmas one year. When Arrendondo moved back to México to care for his ailing mother, Austin and Strickland soon followed.

Austin used to work for AIDS Arms for many years before retiring from the Baylor Geriatric Center. Strickland still works but telecommutes to his job in the U.S.

Though most people think that it is not safe — and even dangerous — for LGBT people to vacation much less live in México, Austin says that he and his partner feel safe.

“In general I have not found much homophobia here and for most people it seems like a non-issue. But yes, there are homophobic people in San Luis and Mexico. We get called names now and then, but then we sometimes got called names in Dallas, too.”

RURAL DRAG | Clockwise from above: Karla aka Carlos and ‘La?Mosca’ aka Adry staged a successful drag pageant this month in the new hometown of Dallas transplants Lamar Strickland and Ron Austin.

Things have changed in San Luis, says the couple, who have spoken to their trans friends Carlos, now known as Karla and Adry Pardo Garcia, known by his nickname, la Mosca (“the Fly”) about the changes: Harassment is basically verbal today and not physical like in the past.

Though there are no gay bars in San Luis, a town of about 49,000, gay people do go out and dance. It is sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell situation where gays blend into the crowd; two men dancing together is something gay men just don’t do.

Though Austin and Strickland say they don’t feel much homophobia in San Luis, “Only the drag queens get by with gay behavior, like dancing together or displays of affection,” says Austin.

Though there are no official gay events in San Luis, five years ago Karla and Adry Pardo Garcia, leaders in the trans and drag queen community, and several of their friends got together to have a Ms. San Luis de la Paz annual pageant called Nuestra Belleza Gay (Our Gay Beauty). Carlos and Garcia say their pageant does give pride to San Luis’ growing LGBT community.

In the U.S., drag queens and transsexuals are often at the forefront of the LGBT movement; it is no different here in México, especially in San Luis. For example, earlier this month the girls got into a Blazer and put loud speakers on the roof of the automobile that blared out announcements for their Ms. San Luis Gay 2011 event held at Bar One, a club almost in the center of town.

As the Blazer drove down San Luis’ narrow streets, the girls — in full makeup and outfits — handed out flyers as they approached anyone on the street. Everyone seemed to be fine with all the glitter and glamour. The Nuestra Belleza Gay marketing worked; it was a sold-out crowd at Bar One. Austin was a judge for this year’s event, as he was last year.

Even before the pageant started there was enthusiasm: As the sun was setting all Nuestra Belleza Gay participants, along with their supporters, gathered at the main bus station where the contestants sat on the hood of a car and everyone caravanned through town with a police escort — basically a very small Pride parade. Small clusters of people did wait along the route that went through the center of town to wave and enjoy the beauty.

Though there may not be gay bars or a gayborhood to speak of, Austin and Strickland, along with their two dogs, Osa and Hoppy and a cat named Miche, are enjoying their new life in  México.

Jesús Chairez is an activist and freelance writer; former producer and host of U.S.’s first LGBT Latino show Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) on KNON 89.3 FM. He resides between Dallas and México City.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Bullying from a different source?

Student at arts magnet school says she was bullied by a teacher; advocates say policy dealing with faculty behavior needs changes

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Delaney Hillan

Delaney Hillan kissed her girlfriend in the hall at school, and that’s when the trouble started.

Hillan, who came out during her junior year in high school, is now a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She said she didn’t expect to have problems being gay at the magnet school, but, she added, at least one teacher had problems with it.

“A teacher yelled at us [when I kissed my girlfriend] and said she didn’t want to see any of this again,” Hillan said, adding that the teacher threatened to report the incident.

Hillan said she understood that official school policy was no public displays of affection in school. But she said the kiss was more a “bye, see you later” kiss than making out in the hall. It was much less than what goes on regularly between heterosexual couples in school, she said.
And she wasn’t the only student to ever kiss her girlfriend in the school.

“It’s Booker T!” she said, the school many LGBT students choose to attend because it’s considered a safe place to go to school.
But the teacher persisted.

A few days later, Hillan said she was walking down the hall and the same teacher was standing outside her classroom. She stopped Hillan as she was passing to again admonish her.

Hillan said the teacher told her, “I want you to know I’m very disappointed in your behavior this year. I don’t appreciate your being so flagrant about it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

Hillan’s mother picked her up from school that day, and when she got in the car, she said, she began to cry.

“I never felt so dehumanized,” Hillan said.

With her mother’s support, Hillan spoke to the principal who said she would talk to the teacher.

“Ever since then, she’s been nice to me,” Hillan said.

She spoke sympathetically of the teacher and said she understood the source of the bullying was the teacher’s religious background. But she doesn’t want another student to feel dehumanized in school again.

“Booker T. Washington’s a place where you are accepted,” she said. “The rules and policies at the school are accepting of all.”

Hillan said school is a place of trust and not somewhere a student should ever feel attacked.

This year, Hillan is president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She has demonstrated with QueerLiberaction and she wanted to speak up for other students, especially those in less-safe environments.

“Students are pushed, yelled at and spit on,” she said. “Even if they’re not openly gay, but others think they are, they’re isolated. It’s hard to make friends when you have that label put on you.”

Kristine Vowels has worked on LGBT issues from within Dallas Independent School District for several years. She told Hillan that the DISD board was holding an open hearing about a new, inclusive anti-bullying policy and that she could tell her story to the public.

Hillan said speaking to the board in front of the packed room at the DISD meeting didn’t bother her.

“Maybe because I’m a theater major,” she said, “but I wanted to get across what was important.”

“Why would you go to a place you were scared of?” Hillan said.

Andy Moreno

Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell said that the recently approved anti-bullying policy goes a long way to protect students throughout the school district.

But, he noted, the policy adopted addresses students, not faculty and staff. He said that the employee manual needs to reflect new policies in the student handbook.

McDonnell also said that training must be implemented to make sure faculty and staff understand what constitutes bullying against LGBT students and what they must do to stop it.

The anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression. The harassment policy already included sexual orientation and now must be updated similarly, McDonnell said.

That policy was written in the mid-1990s with the assistance of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. However, protected groups should be consistent across different areas of conduct, McDonnell said.

He said that there must be a safe way for students to report bullying. “It’s harder to report your teacher,” McDonnell said.

Hillan had a receptive principal who didn’t hesitate to take action. But in the case of transgender student Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School, the bullying allegedly came from her principal.

Moreno wanted to run for homecoming queen but was stopped by the school’s new principal. But rather than just stopping her bid, Moreno thought the principal’s words crossed over into bullying.

The principal allegedly called Moreno an “it, or whatever you are” and threatened to close the school’s GSA in retaliation for Moreno speaking to Dallas Voice.

DISD trustee Lew Blackburn has said that the district needs a district-wide policy on homecoming elections.

Moreno believed that if a teacher were speaking to her inappropriately, she could have turned to the principal, but in her case there was nowhere to turn other than the press.

Hillan thinks the solution is simpler than that. Any bullying by faculty and staff needs to stop.

“Students shouldn’t be afraid to go to school,” Hillan said. “And I shouldn’t be afraid of my teachers.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens