Now that you’ve been thoroughly bombarded with the odor of ten years worth of dirty laundry from a city you probably think of as a pit stop at the La Quinta in-between LA and Austin, I’m sure you’re wondering why I decided to write this screed…
I love this City. Warts and all.
I love this special fucked-up little vortex where I was raised and where all the world’s problems seem to become seated and magnified. From border policy, substance abuse and all its consequences, civic neglect, gentrification, war, power, corruption and greed, and the multitude of legal battles that come with it, we’ve found ourselves consistently in the middle of the national conversation since our beginnings as a modern City. And that’s shaped us into who we are today.
For all of our political ugliness, El Paso’s a pretty damn interesting place to live, and I know I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without having been brought up amongst its better qualities: our bilingual culture, our unabashed characters, our strong and proud and integrated minority communities, our sense of abiding humanity, and our racial tolerance. I’m not saying things are perfect, but they’re a lot better than they could be.
It’s less than perfect qualities, well, my mom always said you can’t make Damascus Steel without a furnace.
But this issue really struck a kneecap here. And it was out on the national stage without context. It really saddens me when others talk smack about us, regardless of the issue, but I was loathe to allow the coasts the opportunity to peg us as a city full of ignorant bigots.
We have the first gay bar in Texas, the OP, established in 1972. We have a thriving gay community that was never forced to segregate themselves en masse in their own quarter like the Castro or the West Village of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We have an openly gay Sherriff, who is the former Chief of Police, who doesn’t talk about it, but he is very present in the community. He makes a point of sending representatives to civil rights functions, which is a step above and beyond for law enforcement in Texas. And, for all the stereotypes about Mexican Catholic machismo, have a culture where a mother will almost always accept a gay son, even if the father is an asshole and doesn’t.
We also acknowledge that everyone has been through some shit, and even though we joke about it (like the lesser qualities in our politicians) we’ve accepted personal struggle and redemption as part of our narrative. We may not be the City on the Hill. But we are the City on the Mount. The salt of the Earth. The humble. The peaceful. Who accept the destitute and the abandoned- Los de Abajo- and we get pissed when we see abuse of power on those who are trying to make good.
I don’t know if Bishop Brown knew what he was doing when he opened the box, but he managed to pit a lot of well-intentioned, and those less than well-intentioned, against eachother. In his vigilance to deny the rights to one group of “sinners”, he made a whole city suffer.
I have to wonder whether whoever crafted the ballot initiative (Caballero insists it wasn’t Brown himself, though she would not provide me a name) did it in such a way as to create as much chaos as possible. To deny a clear Civil Rights argument. To force the hand of government forced to watch their employees suffer, in a way that breached an ethical boundary. To pit natural allies against one another. To make it easier to push their political agenda, because that’s all that mattered. Not the peace, or happiness, or health of the populace. What would Christ have to say about pitting father and daughter against one another? About using man’s law to force a civic body into denying people affordable healthcare? How is any of that not the hand of darkness playing-out a Machiavellian scheme?
But then again personal folly and the egos of the opposition come into play. Beyond all the religious and social implications, is a question of two styles of governance. representative democracy versus direct democracy, and finding the balance between both. Many in El Paso, especially those within the old guard of Civil Rights activism and the Chicano movement, find bold moves like vacating a popular vote offensive to their very core. The to the elders, the outright sense of helplessness that comes with sewing your vote to see it overturned, or to see the will of those you disagree with overturned, is an insult to the system.
Many who have done well in politics here have either been in strong political families backed by powerful business interests, have been hand-picked and mentored by the latter, or have been complete sell outs- starting their careers as activist firebrands in the public interest only to become the very thing they loathe. Norma Chávez comes to mind. Visiting her office in Austin when she was still working as State Rep. for the Lower Valley, pictures of her in the Brown Berets graced the walls, as did National Council of La Raza awards, and when she saw herself losing and found out her political opponent was a lesbian, she went to out her at a biker bar. Fuck that. Let’s not even start on Norma. That’s a whole other story.
As for Pastor Brown, he is entitled to his beliefs and his speech. He can go Downtown with a bible and scream at the top of his lungs in front of Pride Square about the sin of homosexuality like a couple of our street preachers used to do, for all I care. He can go run a car wash with the words “Support Traditional Marriage” drawn on his chest in magic marker, or petition people all he wants as a private citizen on public property, but when “speech” really means “legislation” and encroaches on the beliefs of others, and their ability to pursue happiness, it’s a moot point.
So forgive us our politicians, a handful of very vocal Pentacostal Christians, and our lassais-faire electorate who should have been there to vote the ballot initiative down in the first place. But now that we’re here and the courts tried to sort it out as best they could, and our council members and mayor have about a year left to their terms, frankly, I think that it’s time for us all to move on. Until the next city elections. God help us all.