Gay San Jose Councilmember Torres ready for Pride

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 23, 2023
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San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres, second from left, joined other officials in raising the Progress Pride flag August 22. Photo: Courtesy Torres' Facebook page
San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres, second from left, joined other officials in raising the Progress Pride flag August 22. Photo: Courtesy Torres' Facebook page

Tuesday night gay San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres raised the Progress Pride flag in the plaza in front of San Jose City Hall. Joining him were his fellow council members and Mayor Matt Mahan for the annual flag-raising ceremony ahead of Silicon Valley Pride.

The August 22 event was tinged with a bit of déjà vu, as the South Bay city's leaders had also gathered in the plaza in front of the government building in June to also raise the inclusive pride flag in honor of it being Pride Month. The city also flies the transgender pride flag on the adjacent flagpole.

"Only in San Jose do we celebrate Pride twice," quipped Torres during a recent video interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

He is now eying a third such ceremony this year.

"I also want to raise the flag for National Coming Out Day," which is annually observed on October 11, Torres told the B.A.R.

There is a need for the multiple celebrations of the LGBTQ community, explained Torres, due to the oppressive tidal wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies being passed across the country, whether by Republican-controlled legislatures or conservative majorities on school boards in Southern California. Amid the political assaults on LGBTQ rights has been an uptick in hate incidents against LGBTQ individuals, the desecration or stealing of publicly displayed Pride flags and, most tragically, the murders of LGBTQ people and their allies, such as the killing last week of a Southern California storeowner over her Pride flag display.

"Please remember we have relived an era once again, where trans rights, gay rights, OUR rights are under attack. We can't just celebrate every June or August! We must celebrate all year long because we are LOUD & PROUD," wrote Torres in a Facebook post with video and photos from this week's flag-raising ceremony.

Since his swearing in earlier this year as the first gay person of color to serve on the San Jose City Council, and only its second out councilmember, Torres has been making it a point to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Due to the passage of bans on drag performances in public spaces, Torres in March invited drag queen Woo Woo Monroe to be the first drag artist to perform during a San Jose City Council meeting.

He has also invited drag queens to join him at the Pride flag raisings and has promoted drag story time hours.

"I have told folks I want to be a councilperson for everyone but especially for our LGBTQ community," said Torres, 41, who represents the council's District 3 that covers downtown San Jose, including his alma mater San Jose State University, and the Japantown, Washington-Guadalupe, and Spartan Keys neighborhoods. "It is one of my identities."

While this won't be his first time participating in Sunday's Pride parade through the streets of downtown San Jose, Torres said his doing so will have special significance for him this year.

"I cannot wait to walk in that parade as the first openly gay Brown man to serve on the San Jose City Council," he told the B.A.R.

With conservatives targeting Latino parents, especially those whose first or only language is Spanish and are religious, as they push back against LGBTQ policies in schools, Torres told the B.A.R. he wants to serve as a bridge between the LGBTQ and Latino communities. Before winning election to his council seat, Torres was an elected member on the board of the San Jose Evergreen Community College District.

"I was open about my sexuality during the campaign. But, first and foremost, I come from a Latino household," said Torres. "It is important for me, as a Latino, to work with our Latino community to learn about LGBTQ issues. It is important for us who are gay and Latino to work with our Latino community to educate them on the stigmas of being gay or lesbian or a trans person in the LGBTQ community."

Doing so, he argued, will be crucial during the campaign next year to repeal the language of Proposition 8 from the California Constitution. Although the courts threw out Prop 8 as being unconstitutional, the 2008 ballot measure's definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman remains embedded in the state's governing document.

LGBTQ leaders fear the zombie language could be revived to restrict same-sex couples from marrying in California should the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court rescind marriage equality as a federal right similar to its ruling last year that ended a guaranteed right to abortion. State legislators this summer voted to put a Prop 8 repeal measure on the November 2024 ballot.

"We need to make sure we are focusing on the Latino community," said Torres, noting that Prop 8 had attracted strong support from voters in San Jose's Latino neighborhoods. "This time we need to make sure we are educating our Latino community. I am more than ever ready to do that as an elected official and part of the LGBTQ community. I definitely want Prop 8 to be repealed."

San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres sits at his desk. Photo: Courtesy City of San Jose  

LGBTQ initiatives
More immediately, Torres is working on several LGBTQ initiatives for San Jose. He had partnered with the LGBTQ nonprofit Project MORE and the Qmunity District, an LGBTQ area of downtown San Jose, on having Woo Woo Monroe do the invocation at the council meeting this winter. He told the B.A.R. he is now working on permanently banning vehicle traffic along the block of Post Street that makes up the LGBTQ downtown district.

Currently, the roadway becomes a pedestrian plaza from Thursday evenings through Sunday night, noted Torres. Begun during the COVID pandemic, the street closure should become a permanent feature to benefit the nearby businesses and is working with merchants to mitigate the impacts from doing, Torres told the B.A.R.

"I want Post Street closed for good," said Torres, noting it will be the site of the Pride after party on Sunday night. "It will become a plaza for the LGBTQ community."

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