One congressional candidate has tried, and failed, to quietly escape identity politics.
Of all the gay bars on Main Street, only one flies Old Glory above the rainbow flag: the Pegasus.
At night, the Pegasus also hangs a canvas banner in their signature black and green that reads: “We respect everyone’s right to protest, but please be kind to our patrons and staff.” Not a chalkboard. A permanent banner that somebody wrote, ordered and bought for indefinite use.
Why is the Pegasus begging for mercy as a standing request? Who would protest a gay bar? Surprisingly, the answer is neither Baptists nor the alt-right, but the San Antonio gay community—at least, part of it.
The Pegasus was founded by Mauro Garza, a local philanthropist, entrepreneur, and former Democrat. His embattled bar lies just south of the 20th Congressional District of Texas, held by Democrat Joaquin Castro. Garza hopes to flip the district and replace Castro as the congressman for San Antonio’s west side.
Protests have taken place in front of the Pegasus ever since a handful of left-leaning gays dug through Garza’s social media. They didn’t have to dig very hard—Garza is openly, unapologetically conservative.
“My opponents don’t know how to deal with me.”Mauro Garza, congressional candidate
To say that protests have rocked the Pegasus would be an overstatement. The protest I checked out consisted of a handful of uncomfortable-looking men in tight polo shirts standing on the sidewalk to give out flyers to passersby, urging them to choose a different bar.
The flyers allege: “Last year the Republican Party in Texas needed money to run Anti-Gay and Anti-Trans ads for the purpose of creating fear and hatred of LGBT people just like you. Mauro Garza came through and gave more than 150,000.00$ of your gay dollars.”
Nuanced. It continues: “Now he’s running for Congress as a hardcore Trump loving, Mexican hating Republican.”
Meeting Garza gives one the impression that he stumbled into this fray on accident. He’s a soft-spoken guy who wears khakis and adjusts his glasses as a nervous habit. When I asked if he’s the owner of that loud place across from my apartment, he distanced himself. “It’s one of my ventures, yes,” he said.
Garza is undoubtedly an unlikely candidate. Photos on his website put him among antlers, crosses and cowboy hats, typical Republican props. He wears his MAGA hat with pride and shares right-wing memes on social media. The internet, from his denouncers on Twitter to his supporters on his site, paints a unanimous picture of Garza as a staunch Republican disconnected from the gay community.
The irony doesn’t escape him. “My opponents don’t know how to deal with me,” he smiled, touching his glasses frames with one hand. “They call me racist even though I’m Hispanic, and they want to call me homophobic, even though I’m a part of that community.”
The Pegasus protesters had their day during the San Antonio Pride Parade when they unfurled a handmade banner in front of the bar, which read in scrawled spray paint: THE PEGASUS SUPPORTS TRUMP. Drag queens giving bystanders the bird arranged themselves around the poster. Since then, their protests have not been so glamorous. Ill-attended and lackluster, they stand below the spotlighted American flag unfurled before the Pegasus as passersby filter into the oldest undefeated bar on the Main Street Strip, unconcerned.