Eric Edward Schell presents an image from his Pride Portraits project to Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
Eric Edward Schell presents an image from his Pride Portraits project to Mayor Ron Nirenberg. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) on Tuesday stood on the patio at Con Safos at Hemisfair and urged gathered techies and LGBTQIA community members to prepare for battle.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week in favor of a Colorado businessman who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because his religious beliefs did not recognize same-sex marriage.

Although the Supreme Court’s narrow opinion did not address whether the baker’s refusal was protected under the First Amendment, Bernal said the court’s decision could embolden conservative lawmakers to cite religious freedom as the rationale behind new legislation that the LGBTQIA community would deem harmful, such as the so-called “bathroom bill” proposed during the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature that would have restricted which bathrooms transgender people could use.

“I think we’ll see not only more bathroom bills, but other bills about religious exemptions,” Bernal said. “We need to start to prepare ourselves now for that fight. Because you are by definition the future, we’re going to have to do that together.”

Bernal was joined Tuesday by Mayor Ron Nirenberg at Tech Bloc‘s monthly Tech2sDay event, which was organized this month to support the local LGBTQIA community during Pride Month. The event took place on the second anniversary of the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub in which 49 people were killed.

Nirenberg noted the somber occasion but said that people of all backgrounds can rest assured they have a home in San Antonio, where their rights will be defended, he said.

“[Tech Bloc CEO] David [Heard] said we can’t build a tech community in this city without inclusivity and respect and dignity for everyone,” Nirenberg said. “I would say – and I think they would agree with me – we can’t build anything in this city without inclusivity, respect, and dignity for everyone. … We’re going to count on you to have our backs when we have to face some big guns, whether it’s in Austin or elsewhere.”

The event featured photographer Eric Edward Schell, whose nonprofit Pride Portraits seeks to represent the LGBTQIA community and its allies through a series of photographs. Schell took portraits of the dignitaries and other attendees, including Codeup CEO Jason Straughan.

Straughan’s coding bootcamp, nestled in the downtown tech district on Navarro Street, is rolling out a $1,000 annual scholarship for a member of the LGBTQIA community, he said.

Codeup sold rainbow-colored T-shirts featuring the Codeup logo, the proceeds of which went toward the scholarship fund. The LGBTQIA scholarships will be offered in addition to ones created for ethnic minorities and women – all underrepresented populations in the tech workforce, Straughan said. Homogeneity in the workers who engineer software is a problem when the customers using the software are of different genders, ages, sexual orientations, and ethnicities, he said.

“Anything that we can do to help the industry look more like the user base, that’s a win for everybody,” Straughan said. “So to me it’s not really questions of supporting this community or that community. It’s a question of, ‘How do we support the communities that are represented in the users of software?’”

Rebel Mariposa, owner of the bar La Botanica, said she speaks to women working in San Antonio’s tech sector who remark on the lack of parity and representation in the local industry, so it was important for women, people of color, and people who identify along a spectrum of sexual and identity-based cultures to have a prominent place at Tuesday’s event.

“It’s important that you see representation of yourself in spaces, in industries, in workplaces, in places you go to eat, to be entertained,” she said. “It’s not that we’re not here – because we are. It’s just that when your existence is questioned or met with violence, you are particular of the spaces you go to – for your own safety and for also comfort and wanting to be who you are.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.