DEL RIO, Texas – At 35 years old, Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano is the youngest mayor in Del Rio history.
Lozano is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served with security forces in Kuwait, a Delta flight attendant and he happens to be the border town’s first-ever openly gay city official.
“It's happening. People are looking beyond attributes that don't pertain to the soul,” Lozano said.
KSAT 12 traveled to Del Rio Wednesday before Lozano took his oath of office for his first job in politics.
He said it was a quinceanera-themed class reunion that launched his political career right after the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando.
Lozano was president of the class of 2001 Del Rio High School reunion board. But after the shooting, he almost didn’t want to plan the party.
“I was like, 'I can't do this. I don't know. I'm scared. What if they hate me? And this is getting national attention,'” Lozano said. “And my mom, my father, the vice president and another friend of ours who was also on the board, they were like, 'No, Ralphy. You can't be afraid. You can't be scared. You can't go back in. There's no closet for you to be in because we love you.'"
With the support of his family and community, Lozano decided to press forward with the reunion. He even wore high heels, as he often does. And what he found was a community that accepted him.
“I come out in my heels and, 'Yeah, Ralphy! Awesome!' You know, my classmates are very supportive of each other. We're a very tight class,” Lozano said.
Despite a couple of remarks about his attire, Lozano said the community came together and made sure everyone was included.
"So that night, a couple comments by some of the people that weren't really aware of who I am, I guess, as an adult, I don't know,” Lozano said. “They were like, 'Oh, look at his heels,' in Spanish. 'Mira sus tacones. Why does he have that on?' And these football jocks that I admired in high school - I'm a small-framed guy and here they are, the football jocks, you know, 'Hey bro. What's up?' And they're like, 'Hey, bro, you know, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be having this celebration today.'"
After that night, Lozano’s classmates urged him to go into local politics. His first step would be a clean-up job.
"I clean up San Felipe Creek. I get my feet wet. I am knee-deep in mud, like trying to get that one plastic bag,” Lozano said. “I planted a tree on our classmates' behalf and we have vigils there, so they know what I've done."
The next step, he thought, would be a run for City Council. In preparation, Lozano began to attend regular council meetings.
“I started doing my research. I started coming to council meetings. I did round table meetings at my house. I have Power Point presentations of, like, 'This is what's going on. This is what I've discovered,'” Lozano said. “I just dove in.”
But that’s not what the citizens of Del Rio had in mind.
“Every six I asked, five were like, 'No, you need to be the mayor. No, you can run for council all you want, but we need you as mayor of Del Rio,'” Lozano remembered. “And I was like, 'Are you serious? Like, you really see this in me.' 'Yeah. Absolutely. Hands down.’"
Lozano took what his constituents said to heart and decided to go for it – just as he was.
"Here in Del Rio, you know, everybody knows Ralphy,” Lozano said. “I have pictures of me in heels on social media and I knew that going in. I knew that on the ballot. I didn't even try to take anything off social media because screen shots are out there, and I live in modern times. I use the apps, you know, Instagram and dating apps. Tinder and things like that."
“But the public, I feel like, saw beyond that. They saw an individual that cares about his community. They saw an individual that happens to be gay. He's not this guy that's promoting a specific agenda. I reached out to every single person that I possibly could," Lozano said.
His campaign, however, was almost sunk by tragedy.
“My father passed away in August of last year,” Lozano said. “My parents are my No. 1 fans. They've always supported me. And I miss my dad.”
He was coping with his father’s death when a friend approached him to talk about the election.
“He's like, 'I know you're mourning the loss of your father. But this is the now moment. In six months, you'll be much better. In seven months, you'll be even better. In eight months, in a year, you'll be looking back and you'll be thinking about this moment,'” Lozano said. “He's like, 'Make sure you get your name on that ballot.'”
Lozano said he thought about it, hosted more roundtable meetings and continued to attend council sessions. Then February came along and he filed his paperwork stating his intention to run for mayor of Del Rio. He won in a landslide in early May, with more than 61 percent of the vote.
The city swore in Lozano as mayor Wednesday evening before a packed crowd of onlookers in council chambers. The audience gave him a standing ovation as Lozano read his oath of office.
Lozano remembers wanting to be anywhere but Del Rio. But now that he has the full support of his community, he says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
"I left Del Rio at 18 because I was looking for acceptance. I was looking for people like myself. I didn't feel accepted growing up here. And looking back, my friends in high school are like, 'You are so loved! Everybody loved you!' And I'm like, I didn't feel that way, whether it's because I didn't love myself, maybe I didn't accept myself. Maybe I just didn't understand,” Lozano said.
"I'm gay. I should feel included. Why don't I feel included? And I always wondered why. And I think the element is not that I don't feel included in LGBT — I'm completely included — it's because I'm missing that Tejano factor, the San Antonio, Alamo, the Del Rio border, the Eagle Pass culture. This is my heritage, the Southwest Texas region. It's a culture in and of itself."