Brave young women cast inspiring light on small town in wake of a bigot at the bar

"You never know when brave and passionate souls will step up to make it clear that small-town sensibilities won’t always stifle a call for at the least tolerance, and at the most justice and a full acknowledgment of civil rights."

Brave young women cast inspiring light on small town in wake of a bigot at the bar

My butt hadn’t hit the hard wood of the barstool for more than a few seconds before a big-old white dude with a straw cowboy hat rested his elbows next to me on the end of the bar and exclaimed in a booming voice, “Damn, at least y’all don’t have all those gay people everywhere.”

The “y’all” he was referring to were the patrons of Harry’s Tinaja, a little bar in the Far West Texas town of Alpine. More broadly, he meant the entire town of Alpine supposedly benefitted from a lack of gays. “I mean damn, shit,” he said flexing out his immense gut, “We were in Marfa and there were these two gay dudes holding hands walking down the street in the middle of the day!” (Marfa is just west of Alpine, with a burgeoning population of newcomers, many from Austin.)

The line of patrons at the bar acknowledged this redneck with somber looks in his direction. Their blank expressions made it impossible for me to know if they agreed or disapproved of his assessment. On receiving his beer, he turned to look me over for a second and apparently—despite my long hair and beard—figured I wasn’t all LGBTQ-ish.

“You know, I never could understand that gay men shit,” he said directly to me. He didn’t need to state the obvious there, but he continued. “I mean, women, women are beautiful, ya know. But men, they are all damn ugly. I can’t think of one attractive thing about men.”

“Their intelligence?” My response flew over his head to crap on his hat, but it didn’t seem to faze him. He formed a look of disgust and mumbled, “That isn’t reason enough to fuck them. It’s sick.” Then he tugged up his pants and headed back to his wife sitting at a table.

I was a bit shocked at the encounter. Although I had just moved to the Big Bend a week prior, I had been throughout the region dozens of times over the past 15 or so years. I always admired how even-tempered most people here are about their politics and even stances on gender and sexuality. I’m sure there’s bigotry sniveling around in dark corners and murmured across weather-worn lips. However, most people out here surrounded by desolation know that it’s best to keep a demeanor of understanding and treat everyone as your neighbor—in case you need a neighbor. But here was this jackass spouting off in the middle of the day. In the middle of a bar. In the middle of downtown Alpine.

Thankfully, he started a conversation with another patron, and the truth became known. This was a far-out-of-town redneck. He hailed from some stain in the road between Lubbock and Amarillo and was visiting to set up his son as a college freshman at the local Sul Ross University. The redneck also made it clear that his son would be playing football—likely signaling that he had progeny whose sexuality and gender identity was supposedly clear. Although, one could imagine that any deviation from the norm for his son wouldn’t find an outlet for expression in Stain-in-the-Road Texas.

Or would it? You never know when brave and passionate souls will step up to make it clear that small-town sensibilities won’t always stifle a call for at the least tolerance, and at the most justice and a full acknowledgment of civil rights. Just minutes after my encounter with the redneck, a string of cars and pickups with trailers began its jaunt through Alpine for the annual Fourth of July parade. The usuals were there—floats with police, politicians, community groups—throwing candy to the kids, who rushed into the street crouched and ready to grab their loot. But along came something different. A small trailer packed with local high-school girls puttered along, and the girls thrust out signs protesting the overturning of Roe v. Wade with a couple also celebrating the notion of “Pride.”

Would the reaction be, “How dare they,” or “Are we raising libtards out here?” That might have been the thoughts churning for some. Possibly even the subject of angry conversations at the picnic and fireworks event later at the city park. But voices rose in discussions and across social media in Alpine with roaring admiration for the high school girls who organized the float, with thunderous praise for their “bravery.” (Although, yes, two old white men on Facebook chimed in to make it known that these stupid girls were promoting baby murder.)

The notion of bravery got me thinking. Should I have meted a harsher reply to the redneck, something other than my sarcastic one-word barb? Or was it better to let his ignorance bloom fully, let him showcase his one-man float of asinine behavior and bigotry and let the bar patrons form their own quiet opinions? Thinking through this, I flopped around quite a bit. I don’t even live in Alpine, and I’ve only been to that bar about seven times. Who am I to offer a rebuttal? Then I realized that I do live “out here,” and I do live in Texas, and yes, we are still part of America. I reinvigorated my sense of pride for the ideals of equality and all the intricacies rooted in the “pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.” Not to mention, I liked this bar.

If I could travel back in time, I would have stood up and told the redneck: “Listen. You may be king of your castle on a smelly cattle ranch in Stain-in-the-Road. But you’re a visitor here. Take some time to soak in the town, think thoughtfully about the people here, and realize they think you’re an asshole for your ridiculous display. You should apologize to the folks here, and likely to your son, who you probably have subjected to endless tirades of slurs against gays and others. Have you even asked your son if he’s gay?”

I’m not sure what the reaction would have been at Harry’s—maybe indifference, some chuckles, perhaps cries of approval, or thoughts that I too should mind my own fucking business. I don’t know. I just hope never to see this again in Alpine or any of the other little remote towns in Far West Texas.

Rob D'Amico is an investigative journalist living in a ghost town somewhere between Marfa and Mexico. He's written for The Austin Chronicle, was comms director for the (Texas) American Federation of Teachers, and most recently, produced/hosted "Witnessed: Borderlands, a multipart podcast. "The tall-but-true tale of a charismatic outlaw, an iconic small-town sheriff, and the record-setting drug bust that ensnared them both. Set in the rugged Texas borderlands, Rob transports listeners back to U.S. side of the border for the opening salvo of the War on Drugs … where so much dirty money was swirling across the Rio Grande that even the most incorruptible citizens would be tempted."