In late 2013, Ernesto Olivo, a local artist and art educator who just happens to be gay, had an idea: a holiday market for and by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Year after year, he watched his fellow artists, artisans and craftspeople line up in droves to participate in Christmas markets all over the city and surrounding areas. It was popular. It was fun. It was a good way to meet new people. And it was a great way for unique, local vendors to earn their living from the enormous holiday-gift season.
He asked himself why an LGBT-focused holiday market didn’t exist. Quick to remedy the situation, Olivo, along with friends Rosalynn Warren, Manuel Davila and Beto De Leon, picked a Saturday evening in December last year and held “Queer the Cheer” at the Southwest Workers Union on the near East Side. The group invited as many LGBT vendors as they could, as well as performers from Zombie Bazaar Belly Dance for entertainment, and—wisely—offered beer, wine and, of course, tamales for a small donation.
The event was a success, drawing nearly two dozen makers and creators and well over 250 eager shoppers. “We loved having it at the Roots of Change Urban Garden there,” Olivo said. “It’s a great outdoor space, completely free and feels open to everyone.”
“I kept asking myself how we, as artists, could collaborate with each other,” Olivo added. “Some of us work with canvas, others sculpt, make homemade soap or are glassblowers. I do screen-printing. As artists, we all use different media, but I wanted an opportunity for us to create together, and that came through collaboration to promote ourselves to our own community, which honestly, many of us in our group aren’t familiar with.”
Thus, the Queer Collective was born.
“All of the members of the group are used to being involved as community organizers,” Warren said. “It’s important to us that the Collective is known for that. We all have different backgrounds, though. Some of us have organized for workers’ rights, immigrant rights or women’s rights, but even though we’re all LGBT, this is really our first foray into LGBT community outreach. But we promote a true cross-section of groups.”
Although the group already had a sense of purpose, what it was lacking was an “insider figure,” someone who already had many connections to the LGBT community in San Antonio. That void was quickly filled by Misha Ortiz, the newest member of the group, who in July, started collaborating with them to foster more events. An artist and salon owner, Ortiz knew the right people to open some doors.
“From the start, I liked the name of the group,” Ortiz explained. “Queer is an inclusive word and I loved that they wanted to look at all of the ways people intersect. We aren’t just LGBT and we come from a variety of backgrounds.” He has opened up his hair salon on the South Side to host community art and music events. “I’m passionate about our art scene here, but also about the local music vibe, and when you can complement art with music everyone wins because of the even broader appeal.”
On September 14, the Queer Collective hosted “Diez y Seis de Septiembre–Una Musica y Arte Celebration” at Pegasus on the Main Strip, which included local bands Bocanegra and Los de Esta Noche, as well as several local artisans. Ortiz explains that the owner, Mauro Garza, was blown away by the concept and the appeal to people who don’t typically frequent the gay bar scene.
Davila, another member of the group, hopes that the Queer Collective can serve as a resource for people as it grows. “I just hope we can showcase the natural talent that’s out there and provide a venue for people to express themselves and be open,” Davila said.
The group’s next event will be a fundraiser for Fiesta Youth, a local LGBT youth support group, from 3-7 p.m. on October 11, National Coming Out Day.
Featuring live music, DJs, local queer authors and an artisan market, the event will also offer resource tables, food trucks and be 100-percent family friendly. Pride Center San Antonio will host the fundraiser at its headquarters (147 East Mistletoe).
Plans are also underway for a second Queer the Cheer Holiday Market on December 13. Future details will be announced via the group’s Facebook page. Those interested in contacting the Collective can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The main takeaway for us is that we’re not necessarily an organization but a collective,” Ortiz explained. “Although we’ll have our own events, we also want to work with existing organizations if we can help make their events even better and be a connector to other opportunities.” Olivo added,
“We’re all LGBT ourselves, but I’d never even been to the gay bars until our event in September. It’s great to start interacting more with the LGBT community.”
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