The last time the Texas Democratic Party Convention was held in San Antonio, Texas Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson was in the White House, the San Antonio Spurs were still the newborn Dallas Chaparrals and Hemisfair and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center were somewhere in the city’s future. San Antonio is a very different city than it was 50 years ago, and politically, Texas is a different state.

And society has evolved. Amid the national mourning for the 49 victims of the Orlando nightclub mass killing mostly, gay Hispanics, more than 100 delegates and their guests attended a pre-convention bash hosted by the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus at Paramour, located at 102 9th St. in the River North district. Partygoers mingled, drank, and ate as afternoon gave way to evening. The atmosphere was lively, the terrace was filled with laughter, reunions and discussions that ran the gamut. But the Orlando mass shooting was still fresh in everyone’s minds.

This weekend marks the first state party convention for Shannon Mitchell-Purcell, a supporting caucus member from Dallas.

“I’m very excited about the election this year. I think it is going to be changing for America and I’m looking forward to our first female president,” Mitchell-Purcell said.

Mitchell-Purcell and other partygoers who spoke with the Rivard Report shared strong disagreement with the politics of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. But they had different ways of describing the brash billionaire.

“I think he’s a very troubled man,” Mitchell-Purcell said. “He talks about his business sense, but so many things he’s done have failed.”

Mitchell-Purcell especially pointed to Trump’s alternating rhetoric on specific populations, such as Latinos and the LGBTQIA community.

“One day, Trump says (he’s) doing so well with the Mexicans, the Mexicans love (him), and in the next breath he wants to build a wall,” he said.

Mitchell-Purcell said Trump has been disrespectful to the LGBTQIA community, then back pedaled after offering conflicting comments following last weekend’s mass shooting.

Sue Spell, co-president of the Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats, said America deserves better than candidates such as Trump, who she feels has alienated many people.

“He’s like a cannon on a ship that hasn’t been well secured,” she remarked. “He tends to do whatever the heck he wants to do.”

The key for Democrats, Spell said, is to show weary GOP voters that Hillary Clinton is more than a viable alternative, that she and the party can unite the country.

Spell supported Clinton’s presidential run in 2008 and initially was cautious about then-Sen. Barack Obama. But Obama’s “arresting” style, as she called it, convinced her that she and other Obama voters made the right choice in 2008 and 2012. She added that Clinton has a similar allure.

“That’s what we definitely need for the Democratic Party, these attractive characters that bring folks in rather than flinging them against a wall, pushing them away,” Spell said, confident Texas Democrats can gain more support for their policies and values in the coming years, and that more LGBTQIA-friendly candidates will be elected to office.

Polls show many voters, including Democrats, do not regard Clinton as “attractive” in the political sense of the word. A Gallup Poll released in April showed he standing among Democrats at an all-time low. If there ie one thing Clinton and Trump have in common, it’s their respective high negative ratings among American voters in both parties.

Still, Thursday night at the Paramour was friendly territory for Clinton, and Spell said she hoped Clinton’s election win in November will help defeat various state initiatives to  pass so-called “bathroom bills.”

“Hopefully, we can turn it a little bluer in the House and in the Senate, so we can get more action on these (LGBTQIA-friendly) bills,” she added.

Spell has a wait-and-see attitude toward the investigation of the Orlando shooting. She feels there are many layers to the gunman’s history, and questions about why he targeted the local gay community.

Jay Narey, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said the Orlando shooting does raise situational awareness.

“I don’t think it has to make us paranoid, but just more aware,” Narey said. “I think it’s something where people can move forward on, but yes, it’s a sad time for us.”

Another partygoer, Leslie Gower of McAllen, said the shooting brought about a higher awareness that the LGBTQIA community still faces an array of dangers despite social progress of the last 30 to 40 years.

Gower said she has two sons about the same age as those who died at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“I feel it’s personal because both my sons are gay and they travel a lot. These were innocent people, it could have easily been one or both of my kids,” Gower said. “I felt apprehensive, that these things could happen, but it was targeted.”

Gower described herself as a progressive Democrat. While she plans to vote for Clinton, Gower complimented Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for pushing Clinton slightly to the left on some issues. Sanders continues to campaign although the primary season has now ended and he has been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination unless a tide of delegates were to abandon Clinton. The two campaign foes will met Tuesday to discuss the road to the convention in Philadelphia and their shared mission to defeat Trump.

Gower also hopes Democrats make gains in Congressional elections and regain their majority in the Senate. are elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and that perhaps the U.S. Senate flips majorities this fall. It’s why, Gower added, it’s so important that the Democrats hold onto the White House.

“The biggest thing is the Supreme Court appointments,” she said. “That could change society one way or another, the balance of the court, whether it has to do with (LGBTQIA), Roe vs. Wade, Voting Rights Act — all of those issues are on the table.”

Narey said Democrats should be able to easily show values and ideals that strongly contrast with those of Trump and the Republican Party.

“The differences couldn’t be more stark. Conveying that message to the general electorate is one of the key goals,” he added.

Narey said he understands why some people are drawn to Trump’s rhetoric, particularly on global issues such as international trade and protecting domestic jobs.

“There’s a consensus in the working class of the country that multinational corporations are more concerned with obtaining cheap labor than they are helping the average worker in America,” he said. “That’s one of the issues the Democratic Party wants to address.”

The Texas Democratic Convention runs through Saturday.

Top image: Eli Olivarez, Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus president (right), listens to Nathan Schwarz at the TSDC party at Paramour on Thursday, June 16, 2016. At left is Schwarz’s mother, Leslie Gower.  Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.