Activists protested against Pegasus nightclub and its gay Republican owner during San Antonio Pride. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Falcon)
What the employees of Pegasus Nightclub can teach us about power
If there is one thing we are seeing more of — besides hate and racism — under the Trump regime, it’s the call for boycotts of companies and people that support him and his ideology: The NFL. Chick-fil-A. Equinox.
But those companies may play only small, insignificant roles in our lives. How does the dynamic change when the boycott being called for lands close to home?
When it is, in fact, our home?
Such is the case for the San Antonio gay bar Pegasus.
When word got out that Mauro E. Garza, a gay Latino man who is owner of the Pegasus, was running for Congress as a Republican, a San Antonio activist group activist group called Protest the Peg launched a call for a boycott. On Aug. 11, the group shared a press release via Twitter and a bulk email sent to more 40 LGBTQ media and freelance writers, calling for a nationwide boycott of the bar “in an effort to defund [Garza’s] contributions to LGBTQIA+ politicians/platforms.” The press release specifically called out Miss Gay USofA and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Kennedy Davenport for performing at the San Antonio nightclub.
After reading Davenport’s Facebook updates and the stories being written about something that was happening in my own backyard, I decided to do a bit of research of my own.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
This is not the first time that Garza has run for office. In fact, the first time he dipped a toe into politics pool was in 2010 when he ran as a Democrat for justice of the peace in Bexar County’s Precinct 3. He lost by 122 votes to William Peche in the primaries. A year before that, the local chapter of HRC awarded Garza their Community Service Award after he donated more than $100,000 to local charities. (The Pegasus website still boasts charitable contributions to eight different local LGBTQ nonprofits).
Garza didn’t become a Republican until 2015 when he made the decision to change parties due “to the fact that I was becoming a father …[and] the trajectory of our nation was not one that I wanted for my son,” he said to me via text.
Three years later Garza threw his hat back into the political ring, running for Congress as a Republican.
Now flash forward to August 2019: Garza has decided to run for Congress again, only this time he is met with a whirlwind of anger and protests. But before he announced his intent to run, he made a public Facebook post on June 10, 2019, saying that he had “transferred all responsibilities and financials of The Pegasus Nightclub to Mike Rodriguez and Gabriel M. Dominguez.”
I spoke with Mike Rodriguez, who reiterated that Garza has little or nothing to do with the club anymore and is more a “silent” figure in its ownership.
Rodriguez did say that Garza never once asked for or expected the club to hang up his campaign posters or wear t-shirts in support of his Congressional run, telling Rodriguez, “Alcohol and politics don’t mix.”
But I left that conversation with more questions than answers.
I get that in the grander scheme of things Garza’s “side” or his “why” doesn’t really matter to the majority of the community, because the fact remains he is running on a platform that has real and dire consequences for LGBTQ and other marginalized folk. As a society, we have responded to the overt bigotry and rise in hate crimes and rhetoric by becoming more woke to systems, people and structures that are funding and furthering Trump’s regime.
And that means we are paying more attention to the things we have control over, like where we spend our money. This a powerful and radical act.
But on the downside, it also means that some of us have begun to police others in the community, demanding that they align their pocket book priorities with our own. And when they don’t bend and boycott the targets we think they should, we call them out as being unsupportive of, ambivalent toward and uneducated about our struggle.
When the flyer came out promoting Kennedy Davenport’s July 24 appearance at the Pegasus, all hell broke loose on the internet. People slipped into her DMs, took screenshots of conversations with her and posted all of that all over social media — without her consent. Even Protest the Peg jumped on the bandwagon, singularly calling her out in their press release for “her defiant refusal to support the boycott,” adding that while they understood the need for full-time performers to make money, there are “different platforms that reach large audiences.”
But the one thing none of the above did was actually talk to Davenport and listen to her side of the story. She reiterated that fact when I spoke to her.
“Nobody reached out to me to ask me about it,” Davenport told me. “I had no idea there was a protest even happening when I accepted the booking. Had
I known about it before they released the flyer, I might have opted out of the booking. But the flyer was released, and it no longer was about me. It became about my fans.”
As a matter of fact, none of these outlets have asked to hear from the people who work at the Pegasus to find out their side of the story. They are part of our community, too — part of the very thing Protest the Peg is boycotting to protect.
Layla LaRue, who is also a cast member of Dallas’ Rose Room, has worked at the Pegasus for the past seven years. She said that her coworkers, the managers and the regulars there are “like family to me. Having the opportunity to see them every week has built friendships and family-type bonds that no political views can change.”
The simple truth is that at some point in all our calls for boycotts, we have to ask for, listen to, truly hear and then bring into our movement the people and their voices who work at Pegasus. We also need to acknowledge the fact that the establishments people work at don’t necessarily represent who they are.
How many of us are actually working at a place that we can honestly say mirrors our values and beliefs 100 percent? I’m venturing to guess less than 10 — maybe even less than 5 — percent of us can say that.
And even if we are among that privileged few, our jobs are never really fully representational of who we are. There will always be at least a 1 percent difference.
And that’s exactly what Mauro Garza is to me, LaRue and other members of San Antonio’s LGBTQ community — that 1 percent of the job that doesn’t reflect our values and who we are as a community.
LaRue reiterated, “I want people to know that the employees and managers are not Trump supporters. While we are disappointed that the property owner is running for office as a Republican … everyone should understand that his political views have nothing to do with the views of those who are employed there.”
The truth is that by calling for a blanket boycott of the Pegasus, we are also calling for a boycott our own people.
I also understand that by going to the Pegasus and ordering a drink (or five), it is quite possible, likely even, that the money we spend there will go to the campaign of bigot who is consciously benefiting from the flamboyant-ness that he wants to “reform” — even if he did shift “responsibilities” to others.
So, I see and understand both sides.
But I also know that there are multiple ways to fight the system, to fight the power, all of which are valid, while only a few — or even only one — are right for each of us individually.
Davenport mentioned making change from within, which is exactly what she did when she chose to honor her commitment and her fans by keeping her booking at the Pegasus. In doing so, she met Zachary Leard, whose mother recently had a stroke and lost the majority of her memory.
“When I showed it to her this morning she CRIED! She was so happy!” Leard said in a Facebook post. “The little things like this warms my heart!”
That is activism.
An all-out-call-to-arms boycott by Protest the Peg is activism, too.
But at the end of the day if the boycott and protest of the Pegasus is really about our community, then we have to find a way that is inclusive of the voices of those in our community who work at that establishment and those who wish to dismantle it.
And while all the liquor sales of club Pegasus may go to support Garza and his Republican bid for Congress, you know what doesn’t? Your tips. Your tips go to the bartenders, the DJs and the drag queens working at the Pegasus. That money goes directly into their pockets and the pockets of our community.
So, instead of a blanket boycott, why not flood the club with our gay dollars, but give them all to the employees? Why not come together as a community for one night, pack the club to full capacity, but not spend a dime on liquor and instead give our hard-earned money to the people in our community who are working hard for it, for you.
That is a radical act of protest and defiance that is both non-participatory in Mauro Garza’s campaign of hate but still supportive of our people in our community — the same community that, in the end, all our activism — regardless of the form it takes — is fighting to protect, honor and serve.