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