I’m sitting across from climate change activist DeeDee Belmares at the Cake Thieves bakery on the East Side as she reflects on the social changes she’s seen in the local queer community.
Our conversation takes place two weeks after Pride Month, and Belmares, 52, shares his journey as an advocate for cleaner air.
True to her LGBTQ activist roots, she wears a rainbow-colored watch strap. This prompts me to ask her what Pride Month means to her.
“Being able to do whatever I want and need to do, whether professionally or personally, as a queer mother, a queer partner, a queer activist,” she says. “Just being able to be myself.
I ask Belmares what impact marriage equality had on her 22-year relationship when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.
“Well, my partner and I have a 19-year-old son,” she explains. “We did all the legal preparation for ourselves before marriage equality. Once we did that [and] once marriage equality passed, it was as if nothing had changed. We were still the same people as before, and getting married wasn’t going to change that. I’m glad people are able to do that, but for us it wasn’t necessary for our relationship.”
Belmares is the former co-chair of the Community Alliance for a United San Antonio (CAUSA), the coalition that worked to pass the 2013 non-discrimination ordinance.
“It was hard work juggling the child and the activism, but we had to take the time to get the NDO through,” she says. “It was actually my first step into the activist world.”
At the central level, why is it important to fight for equality?
“Because people are dying,” she replies almost instantly. “People are being fired. People are being abused. People are getting murdered because of who they are. It’s a life or death situation for [LGBTQ+ people]I think.”
Although there is a season for activism, Belmares notes that there is also a time for being a mother, a partner, and a human. For her, that moment came soon after the adoption of the NDO.
“I had to withdraw from the coalition because my father fell ill [and] my mother had just been diagnosed with dementia,” she says. “If you can’t take care of your own family, you can’t take care of everyone else. My parents were sick for a long time.”
In 2018, during one of his frequent trips to Port Aransas, Belmares made two life-changing observations.
“On the way to Corpus you see the refineries and all this smoke coming out of them. I’m at the beach and I see the wells outside on the ocean and the tankers coming in and out of the port with LNG – from liquid natural gas. I thought to myself, ‘This can’t be good.'”
She continues, “Then that was…probably Trump’s first State of the Union address where he called coal ‘beautiful and safe’. Man, I just lost my shit! I said, “What is he talking about? This is absolutely false, dangerous and deadly! A friend of mine worked for an organization called the Environmental Defense Fund. They were looking for a time-organizing role in San Antonio, and she said to me, ‘Do you want to come on board?’ I was like, ‘Damn, yeah I want to come on board.’
Coincidentally, Belmares joined the movement on Earth Day 2018.
“At the time, San Antonio needed to embrace the climate action and adaptation plan. Also, it’s been a very long struggle here in San Antonio. [to get] CPS Energy is closing its last coal plant,” she says. “That’s what it looked like then – and it still looks like that. The climate plan has been adopted, but we are still trying to convince CPS Energy to close its coal plant. »
Belmares – who is a member of CPS Energy’s rate advisory committee – says the city-owned utility is actively looking for alternatives to the plant, which is one of the area’s biggest sources of air pollution.
I ask him what his vision of the San Antonio air is.
“Let it be clean and breathable for everyone, especially those most vulnerable to pollution,” she says. “These are the poor, people without health insurance, children, the elderly, people with respiratory diseases and asthma.”
Do you think this will happen in your life?
“You have to,” she said. “I will definitely keep fighting for it.”
Belmares is now a climate justice organizer for Public Citizen, a Washington, DC-based watchdog organization Given her deep involvement in environmental causes, I ask her if she still considers herself an LGBTQ+ activist.
“I consider myself a climate justice activist who happens to be a queer,” she explains after a contemplative pause.
“Here in San Antonio, gay activists do the heavy lifting,” she adds of the climate activist community. “I believe that climate change is the overriding issue of our time. Climate change affects some people more, such as black and brown communities. This coal plant is in the southern part of the city. It is not to Stone Oak.”
How does that make you feel?
“It hurts me, you know? I grew up on the South Side. My parents are buried in the cemetery right where this refinery is.
Belmares attended St. Leo Catholic School, although she admits she is no longer a Catholic.
“I think church is boring,” she said nonchalantly. “I got tired of praying for others and nothing ever happened. I never used to pray for myself, really. I always used to pray for others and things haven’t changed, you know? I don’t think God hears prayer. , or if there is a God, he doesn’t listen. The more I see things happening to children, the more I feel realize that we can only save ourselves.
What would you say to a passionate young activist who has just joined the climate community?
“Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Talk to everyone and keep challenging the power,” she says.
What did you learn about yourself through this work?
“That I learned working with different types of people,” she says. “I’ve always thought that to do this job, you have to work with people that you’re aligned with — like, politically, only progressives will do this job. And, on the whole, that’s true…but I You can’t forget that there are people who aren’t necessarily like you who care about the same issues.”
Finally, I ask her what she would say to a young person seeing Pride for the first time this year.
“Have fun! Enjoy! Bring someone with you to do the same, because you could really help that person a lot.”
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