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Fronteras Extra: 'I Almost Became A Ghost In The Background'

Twelve San Antonio LGBTQI+ artists weave their identities, narratives, and history into the exhibit “‘We Are,” which is on display at San Antonio’s Culture Commons Gallery through July 13.  

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Sebastián Guajardo, Jose Villalobos, Antonia Padilla

Sebastián Guajardo, special projects manager for San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture, says the exhibit honors the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and the individuals who support them.

“Michael Martinez did a wonderful installation using all the colors of the rainbow pride flag, which includes the black and brown we’re recognizing in our LGBTQ community comprised of African Americans and Latinos,” he said.

Photographer Antonia Padilla talks about the confusion her parents experienced with her gender identity.

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Antonia Padilla, 'Becoming Antonia, 1986-2015'

Photographer Antonia Padilla is a transgender woman, who knew she was a girl since she was four years old. She grew up as an Air Force brat, and her parents were confused by their daughter’s behavior.

“My parents were always taking me to (Wilford) Hall (medical facility, serving Lackland Air Force Base) because they wanted to know what’s wrong with our son,” she said.

Padilla laughed as she remembered being taken to Wilford Hall several times.

“In the 60s, being transgender was a very mysterious thing,” she said. “It was very frightening for parents.”

Padilla said the doctors there had no answer or solution for her parents.

“Military doctors, at the time, were really more attuned to treating service people, not a young child who was gender confused,” she said. “Nothing was done.”

Artist Jose Villalobos talks about the alienation he encountered when he came out to his very religious family.

Jose Villalobos 'We Have Always Been, 2018'

As a gay Latino man who grew up on the Texas-Mexico border, artist Jose Villalobos experienced conflict and alienation with his family.

“I grew up in a very Christian, almost Pentecostal faith,” he said. “... I almost become a ghost in the background.”

And, he added, much hasn’t changed since he came out in his early 20s.

“I still have some family that communicates with me,” said Villalobos, “but it’s not the way it used to be before I came out.”

A piece of art in the “We Are” exhibit by artist Anel Flores mirrors Villalobos' experience. A series of drawings, similar to comic book panels, describe the rejection Flores felt when coming out. She was asked to “pray the gay away” and struggled with suicidal thoughts.

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Anel I. Flores 'Pray the Gay Away, 2018.'

Guajardo said, while the exhibit celebrates the struggles of the San Antonio’s LGBTQ community, he added it gets better.

“I’m a gay man; I’m 50 years old. Believe me, the family will begin to accept you over time,” he said. “... LGBTQ youth have the highest rates of homelessness and suicide attempts and suicide. I know a friend who has a family member who tried to commit suicide because of their religious indoctrination. They came to accept it. They’d rather have their child alive with you. ... This exhibit celebrates that. We’re all different. It celebrates the beauty that we are individually.”

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1