Dressed in ripped jeans, checkered Vans sneakers, and a My Hero Academia anime T-shirt, 12-year-old Milo Rodriguez wore a bisexual pride flag around his neck and a trans pride button on his shirt. His mom and stepfather brought him to an event Tuesday that was designed for children like him.
Surrounded by other dancing LGBTQ youth he’d just met at the second annual Family Pride Night at Madison Square Park, north of downtown, Milo beamed with excitement as his mother marveled at her child and his new friends.
“I feel amazing!” Milo yelled. “I am so energetic and happy, and all my new besties are so supportive!”
Two years ago, Gabby Mata, a writer, photographer and founder of the blog San Antonio Lovelist, responded to a social media post from Liz Burt, director of Urban Activation + Play at Centro San Antonio, suggesting a Pride event for LGBTQ youth as well as same-sex couples raising children.
“I wanted to create something family-friendly,” Mata said.
She said she envisioned something early in the evening so families could bring young children and also somewhere young queer people who don’t get support at home might discover resources and a welcoming community.
“Gabby reached out to us via social media, and she had such a compelling story. We said, ‘Yes, let’s meet!'” said Burt. That meeting begot the first Family Pride Night, held in 2019 at Travis Park, which Burt called “very guerrilla and organic.” The pandemic forced it to take a hiatus last year.
This year, the event included performances by singer Alyson Alonzo and local drag troupe Los MENtirosos before attendees stepped off to march around the park. They were led by fashion and feature writer Michael Quintanilla, who brought along friends including Judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez and District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia. Councilmen Mario Bravo (D1) and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) also attended.
Milo and a handful of other youth, many also draped in various pride flags, banded together near the back of the procession, hooting and hollering through a portable microphone carried by one of the Los MENtirosos Drag Kings, Gacho Marx, aka Jessica Hawkins.
“It’s their time, right?” said Hawkins after calling for the young people to gather around for a photo. “Grownups get enough time. They are way more in touch with who they are at their age than I ever was.”
Milo’s mom, Cristina Vega, said Milo’s journey has been a difficult one for the entire family.
“We come from a very traditional Mexican background,” she said. It was hard to watch her only daughter transition to using he/him pronouns and ask to be called a new name. But when Milo began to self-harm, she said, it became clear to her and her husband, Milo’s stepfather, that he needed support.
“We said, ‘Let’s do this,'” she said. “It can be really hard on parents, so it really helps to see other families out here, to see that we’re not alone. I don’t feel like it’s wrong anymore. I want Milo to feel loved and accepted and happy.”
The risks to LGBTQ youth are real.
Anti-LGBTQ discrimination contributes to an increased risk of suicidality, according to researchers at the Williams Institute at the University of Los Angeles School of Law, a research center focused on sexual orientation, gender identity law, and public policy. A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBTQ youth “are at least twice as likely as heterosexual youths to contemplate suicide, and 2 to 7 times as likely to attempt suicide.”
“One thing I’ve read is that if a child who is queer or trans finds just one supportive adult in their life, their chances of committing suicide go way down,” said Mata. “So I wanted to create a space where that could happen.”
While LGBTQ adolescents and young adults are coming out earlier, they continue to experience high levels of stigma and discrimination, according to the Williams Institute, which ranks Texas 39th in the nation for public support for LGBTQ rights and acceptance of LGBTQ people.
“It’s complex,” said McKee-Rodriguez, San Antonio’s second openly gay council member. “As representation increases, parents can see connections to their own children. But LGBTQ youth represent a higher percentage of homeless [people] because some parents still do not accept their children.”
Mata, watching the group of adolescents dance wildly to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” said she was “crying like a baby” in the golf cart at the head of the procession. “Oh my heart,” she said as Milo hugged a teen he’d just met goodbye.
Burt, too, couldn’t keep a dry eye, even as she was planning for next year’s Family Pride Night.