It’s noontime Sunday when the signature smile of María R. Salazar, one of San Antonio’s most notable LGBTQ activists, pops up on my screen.
Between the growing debates about COVID-19 and the civil unrest that’s erupted across the nation after the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in custody of Minneapolis Police, we both agree these past three months have left a mark on San Antonio.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen next month,” says Salazar, 55, as she adjusts the volume on her device. “July is usually hurricane season.”
And June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which has been largely overshadowed by the pandemic and the ongoing protests.
Salazar, a family law attorney who specializes in child abuse custody suits, is also president and a founding member of Orgullo de San Antonio LULAC Council, an organization dedicated to uplifting LGBTQ+ Latinos and recognizing their contributions to the San Antonio community.
As the eldest child of migrant farm workers, Salazar first learned about community-driven values while on the apple and potato trails of Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
“I was born in Idaho, but I was raised by Tejanos,” she says proudly.
However, growing up, Salazar began to feel she was living “a fractured life.” At home, she was the perfect daughter. But on the weekends, she would make the trip to San Francisco with her gay Latino friends. They would revel in gay nightlife, singing Juan Gabriel songs in the Mission at the top of their lungs.
“In that group, it was like ‘Oh, my God! I can be queer and [speak] Spanish!” she recalls.
Salazar’s father died when she was 17. She still remembers her last moments with him.
“I had a girlfriend at the time, and I think my dad knew. We were in his truck and he asked me, ‘So that’s a very special relationship that you have, right?’ He was talking to me in English. And I said, ‘Yeah.’ There was a long silence after that. And then he said, ‘Whatever you do in this life, I want you to be happy.’ That was the last thing he said to me,” she says.
About five years later, Salazar’s mother died after suffering through a painful illness.
“She finished raising three children in a wheelchair,” she says.
“I think that is such incredible strength.”
What Salazar remembers most about her mother was her faith. Though her mother was a devout Catholic, her creed wasn’t so rooted in religion as it was a “faith in that outcome of goodness.”
Shortly after she lost her mother, Salazar moved to San Francisco. Amid the warm glow of the Golden Gate Bridge, she gained sapphic empowerment through the voices of ’90s-era out comics including Lea DeLaria and Marga Gomez.
“For me, seeing these dyke entertainers and comedians [who were] also very political was very affirming,” she remembers. “They were saying ‘You better say the word lesbian! Say the word dyke! This is who we are!’”
Gomez in particular taught Salazar that she could bring all of her worlds together.
“Looking at Monica Palacios and Marga Gomez, they were such symbols of owning your sexuality and your desire.”
Salazar eventually stopped wearing dresses to work, opting instead for loafers and slacks.
“San Francisco taught me to really value and appreciate and love beauty in all beautiful things,” Salazar adds. “The fog coming in in the evening, that [was] just a beautiful feeling on your skin.”
After relocating to San Antonio and living here for about six years, Salazar attended CUNY School of Law in New York.
“What New York taught me is that we are citizens of the world,” she says.
In 2018, Salazar married her partner, Jo Ann Castillo. The ceremony was officiated by Justice Rebeca Martinez. This year, they’re celebrating 22 years as life partners.
I ask Salazar, who identifies as a feminist, what she’d like Anglo lesbians to know about the Latina lesbian experience.
“What I would say to White lesbians is [that] our sexuality as Latinas comes out of a cultura that, yes, has a lot of machismo, but it also informs our sexuality,” she says. “For me to come out as a Latina lesbian, a lot of my latinidad was affirmed by queer Latino men who helped me to see that I didn’t have to separate my sexuality [from] my cultura. The relationships that we have with Latino men and particularly Latino gay men is absolutely vital to our health and well-being.”
For Salazar, pride is about authenticity.
“I think being out is a call to be honest and authentic,” she says. “And being out with our convictions and our values. I think right now to be out and stand with Black Lives Matter, not as a Black person, that’s gonna take a level of courage, and it’s demanded of us because we cannot be silent when there are such great injustices happening in front of our eyes.”
I ask if she saw the video of George Floyd’s death. When she confirms she has, I ask her what it made her think.
“The first thing I thought was ‘I am watching a man being murdered,’” she says. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I was horrified. How can anyone deny that we’ve got a problem? I felt like we were watching a modern-day version of the Ku Klux Klan taking a ride at night, and something needed to be done.
“But then my other thought was, ‘How? We’re in the middle of a fucking pandemic!’”
Salazar participated in a couple of protests earlier this month, explaining that it’s important to put words into action.
What is the message you would like to get across to queer Latinos in San Antonio? I ask.
“I think for the Latino queer community, I would say that we are present and that we are here, and we shall be seen though all our generations,” she replies.
And, for those gay Latinos who feel they’re living the same kind of fractured life Salazar once did, she has faith they too will be made whole.
“There’s a world for you to be received completely as you are,” she says.
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