(From left) Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Zan Gibbs, an equity manager for the City's growing Office of Equity, lead the discussion. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Born and raised in San Antonio’s South Side, Thomas Guerra moved away from San Antonio to attend college and graduate school the first chance he got. His parents “disowned” him when he told them he was gay and he didn’t see a future for himself here as a gay man.

After 14 years of keeping his distance, he decided to move back because he started to see hope in his hometown for the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual or allied) community to lead safe, prosperous lives.

“I never would have thought I would have had a chance to live here,” Guerra told the more than 150 people gathered at the San Antonio Central Library on Tuesday night. He moved back to San Antonio about one year ago, after getting married, works for the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation, and plans on starting a family.

He asked the crowd where he could go to help further the progress of inclusivity he’s seen in the community. Guerra, it seemed, was in the right place to ask the question.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and members of his office’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, which was formed 10 months ago, listened to and answered questions from the LGBTQIA community regarding economic development, education, historic preservation, affordable housing, police treatment of transgender suspects, state legislation regarding LGBTQIA rights and more during the third edition of the mayor’s town hall series.

Zan Gibbs, an equity manager for the City’s growing Office of Equity, moderated the discussion and directed Guerra’s question to Robert Salcido, the executive director and board chair for Pride Center San Antonio who works for Equality Texas. The Pride Center connects the LGBTQIA and HIV positive community to resources across South Texas.

Volunteers are always welcome at the center, Salcido said, “we try to be a hub [for resources] … but there’s a lot more than needs to be done” in terms of sustainable funding for support infrastructure and programs that address the needs of vulnerable populations.

There’s also more policy work to be done at the local and state level, several audience members pointed out.

The City’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which was updated in 2013 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification, only applies to City employees or companies working with the City, not private businesses.

“This is a city for all,” he said earlier in the conversation. “I’m very proud … that San Antonio has a very proud history of civil rights and human rights, which is why it was odd to me that the nondiscrimination ordinance was as vitriolic a conversation as it was.”

Nirenberg also noted that one of the most pervasive problems in San Antonio is homelessness, especially for the LGBTQIA youth population. The City supports programs like Thrive Youth Center, which provides some housing for homeless youth, but Nirenberg acknowledged that shelters aren’t the solution – the causes of homelessness is “a system of a lot of things.” The city is currently working on a comprehensive approach to prevent and mitigate homelessness.

State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) filed a bill, HB 517, in December that would ban all so-called “conversion therapy” programs from operating in Texas. Such psychotherapy programs treat homosexuality as a mental disorder.

“My personal position [is that] it should be prohibited,” Nirenberg said, but that will likely be a state decision.

Former City Councilwoman Elena Guajardo, who was the first openly gay Council member, praised the San Antonio Police Department, specifically Chief William McManus, for listening to the community 15 years ago when it asked for the department to start training its officers to better interact with the LGBTQIA community.

(From left) San Antonio Police Chief William McManus hugs former San Antonio councilwoman Elena Guajardo after she thanked him for his support of the LGBTQIA community. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

There are some bad actors in any police department, McManus said, but in San Antonio it’s not coming from the top.

“I have always been supportive of this community. Always,” he said. “And that trickles down through the department … that’s going to continue and you have my commitment to that.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org