Friday, June 17, 2016

An Awkward, Unnecessary Interruption to a Somber and Heartfelt Vigil

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Mayor Ivy Taylor spoke at a vigil in Crockett Park Thursday night honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting. - JULIÁN P. LEDEZMA
  • Julián P. Ledezma
  • Mayor Ivy Taylor spoke at a vigil in Crockett Park Thursday night honoring the victims of the Orlando shooting.

Thursday was another night of reflection, grief and solidarity in Crockett Park, the second time this week that San Antonio’s LGBTQ and allied community has gathered to mourn Sunday’s mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. In between songs and poetry, speakers read brief eulogies for the dead, underscoring with devastating detail just how much was lost.

Early on, however, the night was punctuated by a brief, and many say unnecessary, moment of tension when Mayor Ivy Taylor stepped up to the mic. Taylor’s front-and-center presence at the vigil had become a source of controversy almost as soon as Pride Center San Antonio announced her participation in the event. Most haven’t forgotten how just three years ago she openly opposed and voted against an equal rights ordinance shielding LGBTQ San Antonians from discrimination.

If Thursday was meant to be some sort of reconciliation between the mayor and a community that says she’s failed to support and protect them, that didn’t exactly happen. Taylor started in by reciting from Romans 12, “Blessed are those who persecute you” — an awkward selection for a politician who has opposed measures meant to protect the LGBTQ community from, well, persecution.  A small group turned their backs on Taylor while others began to shout “shame on you.” The rest of the Bible verse, and a brief prayer that followed, were largely inaudible to the crowd. After stepping away from the mic, Taylor and her staff quickly made a bee line out of the park.

To understand the rift between San Antonio’s mayor and the LGBTQ community, dial back to the battle over San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance, which council passed in September 2013. Homophobic and transphobic backlash from religious groups marred nearly every public discussion over the equal rights ordinance. At Thursday night's vigil, many recalled the "verbal violence" of those heated discussions inside council chambers. 

While Taylor wasn’t as outspoken as some of her conservative colleagues in calling for the ordinance’s defeat (like former councilwoman Elisa Chan, who remained unapologetic after being caught on tape calling trans people “disgusting”), her stance on protections for the LGBTQ community has been unwavering. As she once told a crowd gathered at John Hageee’s Cornerstone megachurch, “I do not feel we should have even been debating that issue … I thought it was a waste of time.” Not long after, she earned the nickname “Poison Ivy.”

Even if a vigil were the appropriate time to build bridges, it’s not exactly clear what reconciliation would even mean for Taylor at this point. “I think Ivy is in a different place than that of 2013,” said Robert Salcido, chair of the Pride Center’s board who took the brunt of criticism for Taylor’s presence at Thursday night’s vigil. “She’s evolved definitely. Is it to the point of where some would like it to be, probably not.” (We’ve contacted Taylor’s office, asking for her to elaborate; we’ll update if we hear something back).

While some of the speakers following Taylor’s remarks largely ignored her presence and focused solely on the victims and a community in mourning, local poet, musician and trans woman Polly Anna Rocha was the most explicit about what the mayor’s showing last might meant to many in the LGBTQ community.

“I would like to address those who are spectators of our pain, specifically to the politicians and police who do nothing to protect us any other day," she said. "I would like to say that you have contributed to the culture of violence that allows events like Orlando to occur. You have contributed to the loss of life in our community through your inaction, silence, and abuse of power.”

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