Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families

Thirteen members of SA's LGBTQ+ community weigh in on the concept of chosen family.

click to enlarge Revelers take part in San Antonio's 2023 Pride celebration. - Julián P. Ledezma
Julián P. Ledezma
Revelers take part in San Antonio's 2023 Pride celebration.
Blood does not family make. Those are relatives,” late ballroom legend Hector Xtravaganza once said. “Family are those with whom you share your good, bad, and ugly, and still love one another in the end. Those are the ones you select.”

Xtravaganza (1965-2018) was one of the many brilliant souls immortalized by Jennie Livingston’s groundbreaking 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. Exemplified by the “houses” that fostered much of the cast of Livingston’s film — numerous runaways among them — chosen family can be a vital lifeline for members of the LGBTQ+ community. While coming out and living one’s truth may be easier than it was in decades past, parental acceptance is not something to be taken for granted.

With all this in mind, we reached out to members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community and asked them to weigh in on the concept of chosen family. A total of 13 were kind enough to collaborate on this community-based Pride feature. Touchingly, more than a few shared that they were lucky enough to come of age with accepting parents, which allowed them to be there for others in need of support.

In light of the fact that many members of the LGBTQ+ community come of age — and come out — without much support from family members, who are the biggest champions of your chosen family? What did they do or say to encourage you or give you the strength to live your truth?

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Penelope Boyer

Penelope Boyer, PhD (she/her)

My dad came out at 70, in 1995. In Tijuana, to my relatively new girlfriend and I, over margaritas. Very strong margaritas. He was with Robert, who had been his lover and martini partner at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. They hadn’t seen each other in 50 years when Daddy, on his 70th birthday, decided to go to San Diego and contact Robert in La Jolla. We had been driven to the Mexican border town by Michael, who made the couple a ménage à trois. A retired military nurse in his 50s, Michael cooked and chauffeured them but also loved them, taking care of their every need. Repeated over and over again that afternoon were the words, “We all love each other,” words whose many meanings were clearly manifest among these three men. Daddy was family, but he also became a big part of my chosen family with my now longtime companion.

David Zamora Casas, tree hugger, humanitarian, surrealist (earth/wind/fire)

The San Antonio grassroots artist community was nurturing, inclusive and unified during my coming out/formative identity-structuring jotería days. Important liberal voices were encouraged through publications like the Current and the San Antonio Light newspapers. The pioneering Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Kathy Vargas and Centro Cultural Azlan’s Ramón Vásquez y Sánchez opened up hearts and minds and helped many of us navigate through the devastation of the AIDS pandemic through art and ceremonies like Día de los Muertos. San Antonio Museum of Art contemporary curator Don Bacigalupi and arts patron Linda Pace nurtured collective and individual queer artists. The fledging Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and its co-founder Susan Guerra were also at the core of building a rainbow coalition, which included Jo Long from the Carver Community Cultural Arts Center. Many others have helped build community while taking on the struggle for civil liberties and using art as a loving tool, including Graciela I. Sánchez, Gloria Ramirez, Isabel and Enrique Sanchez, Steve Bailey, Sterling Houston, Sandy Dunn, Kim Corbin, Myrna Von Nimitz, Michael Marinez, Robert Tobin, Al Rendón and Rawny Valdez.

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families (3)
Anthony and Uriel Diaz

Anthony Diaz & Uriel Diaz, co-owners of Karolina’s Antiques (they/them) (he/him)

Chosen family is such a vital part of our community. It can come in different forms and in many different ways. For us, one of our biggest champions would be our Karolina’s customers and friends. They’ve supported us for almost two decades and have uplifted us countless times. For example, this Pride season when we got our very first float for the River Walk Pride Parade, many of them showed up and cheered us on — and those who couldn’t make it out showed their support on social media. Having that continuous unwavering support is what makes a chosen family, family.

Marcy Fernandez, ailurophile and server (she/her/misfit)

After sneaking into my first gay bar at age 14 or 15 — I believe it was the Copa, which later became the Saint — that turned into my first time bringing a girl home while still living at home with my father. Early the next morning, we were interrupted when my father opened the door to let me know breakfast was ready. I was busted! I was embarrassed for two reasons: getting caught doing the dirty but mostly because I hadn’t come out. He immediately shut the door and knocked and said, “Breakfast is ready and your friend is invited as well.” I was still feeling uneasy so I asked the girl to leave. Shortly afterwards, my father asked if he could talk to me. I said to myself, “Oh no, here comes another lecture.” He then proceeded to apologize for the intrusion and told me how much he loved me. He followed that by telling me whatever made me happy made him happy. That was the day I came out. I felt such a relief and because of that, this made my journey in truly finding my queer community a lot easier. My father has since passed away and my mother passed away when I was 10 years old. My father started my journey and my queer community will stand with me till the end. I never feel alone. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones but proud to have helped others who are just starting their own journey without the support at home.

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Anel I. Flores

Anel I. Flores, artist, speaker, healer and coach (she/them)

So much of my chosen queer art and writing familia poured like a brilliant rain from the stage, the pages, the doors and the walls of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in the early ’90s: Lourdes Perez, the Olguins, Maricela, Aurora and Guadalupe, Gloria Ramirez, Sharon Bridgforth, Graciela Sánchez, Maria Salazar, Norma Cantú and so many more! If I didn’t meet them there for the first time, it means the world to me to see them annually at so many celebrations and events they queerate so beautifully all the time. When I met Erika and our daughters, Jessica and Klarissa, I felt like I had a queer familia of my own to share with them, and still we grow, we evolve, we love and we provide safe places to land and thrive together!

Dino Foxx (aka Foxxy Blue Snacks), drag queen, burlesque dancer, poet and activist (she/they)

What is life like when your chosen family are actual icons and legends? It is pretty legendary. When my burlesque mother S.T. Shimi (aka Miss Black Orchid) passed away almost four years ago, we learned too soon the impact she had on the theater and burlesque world, not to mention the countless other spheres she reached with her influence as an educator and choreographer. My drag mother Kipper Snacks is not only an iconic drag performer — known for her time in San Francisco at the historic Divas Nightclub or Aunt Charlie’s Lounge — but also the masterfully skilled couturier behind many of the looks worn on the RuPaul’s Drag Race main stage by Lady Camden and Eureka (not to mention the looks Eureka wore out of drag on HBO’s We’re Here). One of her custom gowns was even immortalized on the cover of the Current in last year’s Pride edition.

My closest burlesque sibling happens to be none other than the baddest blossom from the barrio, the reigning Queen of the Noire Pageant, Chola Magnolia. In between eating tacos at my house in our workout clothes that we don’t work out in, she is headlining stages across the United States, and just competed for the highest title in burlesque, M. Exotic World (formerly Miss Exotic World), at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas. Her most recognizable costume — which she has worn across San Antonio, performing at the Emerald Ball and the San Antonio Burlesque Festival — is currently on display at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum in Las Vegas in an exhibit celebrating Latinx/é burlesque innovators.

My burlesque daughter Kristi Waters is the current reigning Countess of the Riverwalk and has been named San Antonio’s Best Drag Performer more times than any other San Antonio queen cares to admit! I also am honored to have so many other drag and burlesque siblings moving and shaking all over the country at the moment.

I also have to mention that my chosen family to me is an addition to my amazingly supportive born family, led by our matriarch Nana Foxx, who has literally taught me most of the professional practices I have. She taught me how to care for people with kindness, creativity and attention to detail that most others don’t even think about. She gave me her love for beautiful things like fresh flowers and good jewelry and she always taught me never to let my “tail” hang out for other people to step on. In other words, she taught me to keep my head down and work. “Nunca dejes una cola para que te piquen,” she would always say.

What did my chosen family teach me? Mostly that the accolades above mean nothing if you don’t continue to show up, show out and shine any chance you are given. They taught me to always be prepared by carrying crushed red pepper in your purse in case you encounter poorly seasoned food — and to make sure you have a full kit of all the supplies you will need to complete your job like a skilled professional. They taught me to always make family birthdays and celebrations special, around a table with delicious food, lots of laughter and lots of chisme. They taught me that opportunities to shine on the stage don’t often come to folks like us, so we take every opportunity given to us to crack open the earth, summon our ancestors and leave everything on the stage every time. They taught me the importance of an entrance, striking a fierce final pose and the importance of good lighting. They also, in their own humble, hardworking ways, taught me that no matter how many titles you earn or shows you headline, you always stay behind and help put the folding chairs away, leave the dressing room cleaner than you found it and always eat tacos with the production squad after the show.

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
David Garcia

David Garcia, president and creative director of Statue of Design (he/him)

Coming out at age 18 was a bit of struggle for myself. While I was fortunate to have the support of my immediate family, I felt that moving away made the transition easier. While on my self-discovery journey in Orlando, I made friends with a great circle of friends that embraced me. I was very impatient in my 20s and my circle was a few years older than I. I remember having deep conversations with a good friend, Nathan, about learning to control my expectations and not pressure myself to try and chase all the things relating to love life, career and relationships.

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Jimmy James photo by Greg Gorman

Jimmy James, award-winning singer-songwriter and voice impressionist (Venmo/PayPal/Cash App)

My very Catholic family was very slow to come around to support me. Eventually they came around. Thank God I was never thrown out because I would not have been able to handle it. My close friends Kathy, John and Tony encouraged me to continue honing my craft in female impersonation. They gave me the support to persevere. I cherished their honest opinions and critiques because, of course, I could never ask my family. From being born on a dirt road in Laredo and raised in San Antonio, I eventually embarked on a fruitful career as an impersonator and impressionist. From Texas to New York’s Times Square, I landed a modeling gig on a giant billboard in drag as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Bette Davis alongside supermodel Linda Evangelista. Years later I also evolved into a recording artist, writing and recording a global hit called “Fashionista.” Eighteen years later, queens are still performing my song everywhere. It’s a sweet full-circle moment for me.

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Julián P. Ledezma

Julián P. Ledezma, storytelling manager at San Antonio Food Bank (he/him)

This is a quote from a recorded interview I did with San Antonio drag legend Erica Andrews four months before she passed away: “Look around, find your people. What you see in the mirror, look for those characteristics in your friends. Then hand-pick your friends and when you’re surrounded by your friends, you’ll find that nothing was wrong with you. Remember you’re art — you’re a masterpiece.”

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Rebel Mariposa

Rebel Mariposa, owner of La Botánica (she/they)

This is an interesting question for me because I have Moms (two-spirit/Xicana lesbianas). For my generation that is rare. My Moms are the chosen family to many of my friends. They offer a glimpse into a possible future, an example of a strong and safe partnership and something to strive for. Sharing my Moms with others is something I am used to and I am happy to do it. This world can feel so heavy and, for many of us, imagining a future is not something we often practice. I want my friends to know that a healthy loving relationship in this lifetime is possible. It takes time and work and it means healing from current and generational trauma. Yet I believe in us. This world needs us to live in our truth, to open our hearts and to love and be loved.

My mother Viviana Enrique has told me and others when taking about self doubt: “It’s only natural to not want to endanger yourself. Yet when you take a step back and really view the bigger picture, you realize it’s actually less risky to self-actualize than it is to not. If you don’t, you will get distracted from your connectedness and your inherent responsibility, which is to grow into your true essence and conduct yourself without doubt and live in balance.”

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Lika Torlinie

Lika Torline, owner of In The Weeds Premium Botanical Products (she/her)

Though I had come out several years before meeting my best friend Jennifer Triance, also known as T, when she came into my life, I truly started living as my authentic self. I met T on the Plenty of Fish dating app almost 10 years ago. I often tell people she was the best thing that ever came out of that dating app for me! Although a romance did not blossom after our initial dating, we became incredibly close and supportive of each other’s goals. She would call me LT (my initials) and quickly became the biggest cheerleader in my life. Her mantra was always, “You gotta make it happen, LT. Gotta make it happen.” This phrase, repeated countless times, was not just encouragement but a powerful reminder that I had the strength and capability to achieve my dreams. T’s unwavering support was a constant as I continued to build my small business, making her a cornerstone of my journey.

Finding someone who truly understands and speaks your language is rare in life, and T was that first person for me. She ingrained in me the belief that while I might not always make everyone happy, my happiness was equally important. This perspective was revolutionary for me, reshaping how I viewed my worth and my right to prioritize my well-being.

T often talked about the concept of an individual home team. She explained that my team comprised myself and all the people who come in and out of my day-to-day life. According to her, if something wasn’t going well, it was detrimental to the “home team.” She would say, “Gotta take care of that MVP, LT,” referring to me. This idea of being the most valuable player in my own life resonated deeply. T let me know that regardless of who comes and goes, it is crucial to check in with myself and ensure my needs and happiness are met.

In a world where familial support can often be lacking for LGBTQ+ individuals, finding champions like T is invaluable. Her encouragement, wisdom, and unwavering belief in me gave me the strength to live my truth. T showed me that my chosen family could provide the love and support necessary for living authentically. Her presence in my life has been transformative, allowing me to embrace my identity with confidence and pride. T played a vital role in fostering self-acceptance and empowerment. T’s encouragement and belief in my potential have been instrumental in my journey, making her an irreplaceable part of my life and a true champion of my chosen family.

Unfortunately, T passed away on November 6, 2021, after a sudden accident, and she is deeply missed by her chosen family. However, she frequently sends signs to let me know she is still with me in spirit. In her honor, I tattooed “Make It Happen” on my forearm in her handwriting. I know she would be thrilled to know that her “home team” advice is being shared with others in the LGBTQ+ community, especially if it can provide a beacon of support, encouragement and love to those seeking guidance on their personal life journeys. Though I had her only for a short time in my life, she has impacted me for the entirety of my lifetime.

click to enlarge Members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ community celebrate their chosen families
Julian Tovar

Julian Tovar, senior vice president of Human Rights Campaign San Antonio (he/him)

The biggest champion of my chosen family has never been one individual person. My champion is the collective of each person that has lifted me up, inspired me to live authentically, shown unconditional love, allowed me to be vulnerable, given me grace, stood with me through incredible wins and immeasurable losses, and taught me that the strength to live your truth is done one day at a time. Happy Pride!

José Villalobos, visual/performance artist (he/him)

I have had the opportunity to grow with many locals of the artist community, however I would have to say that my closest of friends are Chris Vasquez, Victor Mendoza, Austin Alegria and none other than Rigoberto Luna and Jenelle Esparza. They created a safe space for me to be able to express myself, but more importantly to exist.

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