In June 1976 New Mexico native Michael Tellez was living in upper Nob Hill—near where Albuquerque Social Club stands—and he and his friend Rober Gumm walked to pick up drinks and hot dogs for lunch. En route, they saw George Meade and a group of familiar guys carrying signs. “I don't remember what the signs were,” Tellez explains, “but we stopped and talked with them and went to some grassy area in Morningside Park and ate with them. They had been by Foxes [Booze and Cruise] and picked up some drinks and food and marched all the way down Central. We thought that was so cool, and we just stayed with them for the remainder of the time. It ended up on record as the first known Gay Pride parade in New Mexico.” While Tellez's participation in that historic event was coincidental, his attendance was appropriate—and serendipitous.
“When I came out in 1971, I knocked the doors open wide. I've either bartended or managed several clubs in Albuquerque and two in Santa Fe.” While he spent time away from the Land of Enchantment—about 15 years here and there—he's made his home here. Tellez was manager of Albuquerque Mining Company (AMC) from ’96 until it was sold in 2007, and he won the title of Mr. New Mexico Pride in 2001. Not coincidently, he attended the 2009 candlelight vigil at Morningside Park dedicating the GLBT Memorial Sculpture 32 years after that first picnic and march; Albuquerque was the second city in the nation to dedicate a memorial to its LGBT community.
During his time as a bar manager, he helped sponsor the many benefit shows at AMC and Foxes for charities. A consummate performer, he has often serenaded audiences and brought out all the stops as legendary drag queen Lady Michelle. Since the closing of AMC, he's kept busy volunteering at the Joe and Jean Travis HIV/AIDS Food Bank in the New Mexico AIDS Services building. These days 64-year-old Tellez celebrates Pride by meeting up with friends and former employees for breakfast at O'Niell's before walking along Central, watching the parade and having conversations. “It makes for a beautiful reunion day,” said Tellez.
Given his youth, many have discounted his transgendered identity as a phase. “A phase doesn't last from the time you realize [what] gender [is] to when you are 16. A phase is something that is there for a few weeks or months, not 11 years,” said Benedict. When he came out, he discovered the Duke City has many resources. “There are so many ways I can talk about trouble or talk about [being] trans or pansexual (his sexual identity) or talk about whatever is going on in my life,” he said. Benedict mentions how helpful the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico has been, his math teacher's support on days when it was almost impossible to attend school and UNM's LGBTQ Center where he found “unofficial foster parents,” friends and his girlfriend Emily.
The excitement he feels about his romantic relationship is palpable, and he gushes about her frequently. They describe themselves as pansexual, a term he defines as the ability to “love, accept and date anybody you feel a connection with, regardless of their orientation, gender, race, etc.” Benedict says, “Emily never would have dated a guy if it weren't for me; she identified as a lesbian before I came along.” His family hasn't been as welcoming as he hoped, and he is now legally emancipated from his parents. Even with that familial loss, his aunt, grandmother and a few others recently came around because of his obvious happiness with his life and identity. “My aunt didn't believe that I was trans at first, but I sent her a message of how I am actually smiling in pictures for the first time and how happy I am now,” said Benedict. “She ended up saying that she is happy that I am happy.” For him, positive change includes being very open about who he is. During our interview, he proudly wears a pin identifying himself as a “trans man” and another with the pansexual symbol; he says he dons both everywhere he goes. He celebrates Pride Month by going to Pride with all his supportive friends. Benedict wants his friends to experience the fun and excitement of Pride. “I show how proud I am of being an out trans man with a truly beautiful, accepting girlfriend,” he said.
“The first Pride events emerged out of a truly revolutionary movement [and] resistance to the establishment—of not only sexual oppression, but race and class oppression, as well,” said Aguilar. “It was a movement which thought to address the oppression inherent in the entire fundamental institutional structure of our society. … Most participants don't seem to know the history that gave rise to the movement for sexual liberation.”
Aguilar is 28 years old, and he's Albuquerque's first—and for quite some time, only—male burlesque performer. Known simply as Arcane, he rather eloquently describes his style as “ragamuffin-goth.” Black and red-striped knee-high socks and fingerless gloves, shorts, boots and a zip-up sleeveless hoodie mesh well with his eyeliner and expressive gestures. Aguilar usually throws a party celebrating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. “I call it the 'Cops and Queers Party,'” he said. “We dress as either cops or variations of queers, [and we] hang out and celebrate the efforts of the drag queens, dykes, hustlers and other marginalized people who stood up for their rights back in 1969—[who] declared that the cops shall never dictate what we do with our bodies.” Aguilar says he has experienced prejudice from within the gay community because of his bisexuality and commitment to consensual non-monogamy. “The circles [in] which I operate are generally accepting of my orientation and the fact that I have multiple relationships and numerous playmates. Many gays and lesbians—more than straight people, oddly enough—have had a lot of 'sage words' about how 'confused' I am and equate bisexuality with the general inability to be monogamous,” said Aguilar. “I choose not to be monogamous, not because of my bisexuality but because of my belief in personal liberty beyond the confines of some antiquated religious or sociopolitical framework of morality.”
Those experiences only fuel his desire to participate in and create spaces where people don't have to conform to a “heteronormative model of relationships which excludes and vilifies queers who do not conform to an easily digested model.” He's performed at Albuquerque Pride in the past and has also worked with several groups that support equal rights here in New Mexico and beyond. He feels that establishing support for the current and next generation is important. “I've been in Albuquerque for nearly a decade, which has fallen during some of the most formative years of my life. Naturally the local influences have helped shape the thing that I have become.”
Support comes in many different forms. At the start of the parade route, a group that calls itself the “Cheering Section” has offered support to marchers and floats. Robyn Cholerton, a self-identifying “retired heterosexual” has called New Mexico home for “58 interesting years,” and she began organizing the group about 15 years ago. “A friend of mine was organizing mutual friends as a group to march in the parade. I didn't feel up to that long walk, but wanted to be supportive … so I put out the word to other friends to feel free to join me in watching actively and enthusiastically.”
Cholerton lives in Nob Hill, and she says it's easy to stroll over to hand out hugs as the parade comes together, before walking back to stake out a comfortable spot on the Central Avenue median. “We bring hats, sunscreen, water and the occasional umbrella or lawn chair,” said Cholerton. “We're usually around a dozen in number—not a large group—but we don't hold back on the joyful noise.” The group is typically made up of other people who don't specifically identify on the LGBTQ spectrum but who want to support their friends, family and fellow citizens who do. Cholerton calls it “a low-impact way to support a great community event and its values, and have a good time.”
Sporting a flowing sundress and a hat that's seen a Pride or two atop her long, center-parted mane, Cholerton casually describes her discovery of Pride: “I had come upon the Pride parade by chance—sometime in the late-1980s—and found it a worthwhile event that I enjoyed immensely.” When asked if the Duke City's particular Pride culture has influenced who she is, she said, “I think that growing up in Albuquerque—long considered a tri-cultural area—during the civil rights movement years allowed me to develop a broad perspective on minorities and disenfranchised populations. Then, with the rise of second-wave feminism, I became committed to the concept that our attitudes and actions should support life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in all of us—whether our uniquenesses be visible or practiced in the privacy of our own bedrooms.”
While she admits that some things are harder for her to accept than others, she notes that LGBTQ rights have empowered her own sexual orientation and gender identity and expresses a reminder: “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. ...” The “Cheering Section” is a highlight for many parade participants. Those in the parade who know about "The Cheering Section" frequently brief others in their floats or marching groups so enthusiastic waves are assured to go in both directions.
There is always something that can be recognized and celebrated during Pride—no matter your age, gender identity or sexual preferences. Acknowledging who you are and supporting other people's freedom to be who they are can be an enlightening addition to your own personal story. Opening yourself up to simply join friends at a picnic, letting people see how happy you are, taking a moment to look into history and standing up to cheer can open you up to a wealth of experience. We live in a place rich with culture, history and some fabulous characters—and you're one of them.