The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center was buzzing with activity on a recent weekend. Representatives from Planned Parenthood, the City of San Antonio’s Metro Health Department, the San Antonio Gender Association, and other organizations were passing out pamphlets, pencils, condoms, and other swag to spread their respective message.
The event was called Son Tus Niños Tambien (They’re Your Kids, Too) – A Trans Kids Back to School Workshop.
Mabel Diaz is a 29-year old with slicked-back jet black hair and cool, yellow shades. She identifies as queer and non-binary, which means she doesn’t necessarily identify as female or male. Diaz says these events are vital to young people who feel isolated and alone: “We have to let the community know there are spaces like this. Trans children, trans young adults, trans people in general they are always pushed to the peripherals and we want to open up a space to let them know there are places they can come and thrive and build a community with people who want to build a community with them.”
Diaz knows that being public with your sexuality, if it falls outside the so-called norm, could mean trouble. She says, “When we’re out and visible, we might be subjecting ourselves to violence, so that’s something we have to prepare for. By keeping our heads up, we’re letting people know we’re not going to step down, we’re not going to be scared, we’re not going to go back in the closet. We’re here.”
Leo Castillo is a short 20-year-old typical college student, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. Glancing at his lightly-bearded face, you wouldn’t know that he was born a female. Leo says he knew he was different when he was four years old, but he didn’t come out to his parents until he was 15. But up to that point, it was a struggle defining who he really was. “All throughout my life I had never come across anyone in the LGBT community,” he says, “so it was very new to me. But my parents said this is how you are, if you’re gay, if you’re lesbian, if you’re whatever, we’re still going to accept you, we’re going to love you. I thought that was pretty cool. But it was always society always backlashing the LGBT community, so it was always out of constant fear, but I was just tired of it, and I was like, I’m just going to come out and do it and I’m going to live my life.”
Leo’s mom, Lori Castillo, says she and her family noticed Leo was different from his two sisters: “From the time he could express himself he did so through his clothing, he did so through his toys. We went with it. It was kind of ‘pick your battles,’ it wasn’t that important what he was wearing, or what he wanted for Christmas, or what birthday party he wanted. My husband was really big on letting him wear whatever he wants. Who cares. I gave birth to 3 daughters. We always said we had 2 daughters and a son. It was almost like a joke, but then the joke was on us because at 16 he said ‘I’m transgender.’ At that point I wasn’t sure what that was. It took him coming to me with a bunch of information saying ‘can you read this please.’ And once I read it, all of it made sense.”
Lori adds that her path to activism, like publicly opposing SB6, was a natural instinct. She says, “As a mother, of course, I’m always going to protect my son. I’m going to fight for him. No one is going to get in my kid’s way of living his life the way he was meant to live it.
Marci Chun is a high school student who fidgets with her long, brown hair, eventually tucking it into a trucker cap. During a roundtable session later, she said that the most positive thing about her transition came out of the most negative. “At my school,” she says, “there used to be this really terrible guidance counselor. In my opinion, almost all the advice he gave out was bad. I came up to him, ‘hey I don’t know what to do.’ He’s the guidance counselor, he should know what to say. He basically said ‘don’t ever come out.’ He told me only rich people could come out because they could afford to protect themselves and get surgery. It was the worst thing I ever heard. It wasn’t coming out to my parents I needed help with. It was coming out in my school. He said don’t ever come out because I’ll never be safe if I do.”
It’s safe to say she came out strong. And she also noted the guidance counselor no longer works at her school.
The trans community still has a long road ahead to acceptance beyond the walls of the Esperanza, but the predominant feeling among those in attendance was hope. And maybe the road to tolerance won’t be so long after all.