THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged granvarones)

1.5M ratings
277k ratings

See, that’s what the app is perfect for.

Sounds perfect Wahhhh, I don’t wanna

my life is a perpetual music soundtrack. i remember all of the moments – no matter how trivial or traumatic – in song. my friends often joke that whenever i say, “i love this song!”, they know a story will follow. and they’re correct. music and pop culture are usually how i recall and process my experiences. they help me to make sense of things.

during my many days of quarantine, i have spent a lot of time listening to music, specifically my “1990 was that gurl” playlist. there are times when a song comes on and i simply sing along and then there times when i am flooded with emotions that are normally dormant in busier times. one of those songs is “joey” by concrete blonde. a song that helped me make a little bit of since of the complicated and absolutely relationship i shared with my aunt blanca.

one song that reminds me of blanca, not necessarily because the song was ever playing when we were together – she would have never listened to modern rock – is concrete blonde’s 1990 hit “joey.” the song conjures up feelings that are both painful and sentimental. released in the fall of 1990, “joey” is an all too-relatable song about loving someone who is the depths as addiction.

i cannot listen to this song without thinking of the many nights i watched blanca disappear into herself. she never instructed me to keep her self-medication a secret. i just kinda just knew. i was already a master at hiding the severity of my own mother’s addiction. and for real, for real, everyone in my universe was either surviving addiction or fiercely judging those of us who were surviving. there was really no one left to tell. these secrets were easy to keep but heavier to hold.

I know you’ve heard it all before

So I don’t say it anymore

I just stand by and let you

Fight your secret war

And though I used to wonder why

I used to cry till I was dry

Still sometimes I get a strange pain inside

Oh, Joey, if you’re hurting so am I”

the youngest of my mother’s sisters, blanca was 10 years my senior and in 1990 was one of my favorite people to spend time with. she was an avid music lover. she loved babyface and keith sweat. when together, she and i would listen to the quiet storm and just talk – me about boys i had crushes on and she about the men who had broken her heart. it seemed her heart was always broken.

blanca wasn’t a drinker. i cannot remember her ever drinking actually. we drank pepsis and ate chinese take-out while we listened to songs about heartbreak. we laughed and laughed as songs by phylis hyman, stephanie mills and luther vandross played in the background. but then a song would begin to play and the energy would shift immediately. it was like literally like watching a broken heart bleed. i’d try to distract her with conversation and antidotes. i was a funny as kid. but she would just pull the small clear bag of heroine from out her purse and take a hit.

then the race would begin. i would begin to talk faster because i knew she would be nodding off soon. blanca engaged in conversation for as long as she could or until she was completely out of it. then i would continue to talk but not as much and not as fast. i would try to salvage the night before the feeling if regret began to set in.


But if I seem to be confused

I didn’t mean to be with you

And when you said I scared you

Well I guess you scared me too

But we got lucky once before

And I don’t want to close the door

And if you’re somewhere out there

Passed out on the floor

Oh Joey, I’m not angry anymore”

i never got mad at blanca for getting high. i hated that it made her disappear. but i knew heroine was a tough thing to kick. when she did try, i would accompany her to the methadone clinic. and when she relapsed, i would go with her to cop her drugs. i just liked being around her – most of the time. i liked the world we created together. blanca was funny as hell.

blanca struggled with addition up until the very end of her life in 1998. she was just 32 years old.

it has been 30 years single the release of “joey.” i listen to “joey” when i want to mourn the loss of the things i remember and the things that i don’t. like her birthday. i still listen to the songs that played in the background during our times together. sometimes i laugh because i remember her jokes. i tell you, blanca was funny as hell! and yes, there is trauma attached to these memories but the immense love i still have for her is what carries me.

storytelling granvarones remembrance gay queer lgbtqia latinx afrolatinx Youtube

Horacio: Long story short, the quarantine made our March 21st date impossible so the day that the stay at home order was enacted in Philly (March 17th) we got a call from the chapel offering to sign our marriage license that day so it wouldn’t expire. We like to think of this “time off” as our honeymoon.

Besides binging televisions shows and desperately trying to come up with recipes that accomadte to our limited knowledge cooking, we’ve embarrassingly enough been spending many days playing Fornite on the couch without cat and dog. We introduced our sobrinos to it (yeah, not the other way around) and since then we’ve been playing together over the phone and it’s been a cute bonding experience since we can’t go visit them at the moment. When we need a little movement we switch to Just Dance or go for a little walk when it’s nice out. We also got to volunteer for Prevention Point here in Philly by helping put together bags of clean syringes and other sanitary measures for the community. When I told mom I had to reassure her we were more than six feet apart in a big room with masks gloves on. We’ve perfected the deep clean, our bathtub and stove have never been shinier. We’ve also become each others personal barber and our hair has changed color like three times. We’re homebodies to begin with so staying at home hasn’t been too strange but we do miss our friends.

Eddie: During quarantine, I have learned that in life, you just don’t have control over the situation that happens around you. What you do have control is how you chose to respond to it. That there is a difference between staying home voluntarily and staying home involuntarily. I like one but not the other. I’ve also learned that I’m much less of a introvert that I thought I was. We’ve both been missing hanging out with friends and being social. Also that Hori and I can sleep a lot haha. But I could probably become completely nocturnal if left unchecked.

Horacio: Personally, I’ve learned to be less serious. I’m the dramatic one and Eddie is the level headed peacekeeper if you will. When I found out we both wouldn’t be working, it stressed us both out but his way of conquering stress is contagious. Of course there are moments of tension when we’re not on the same page, and I’ve learned to detect when those moments are coming and diffuse them by clearing the air before we grow silent. Mostly, I’ve learned that I really have married my best friend and that our connection is genuine and I’m lucky to be able to spend this historical moment with him.

Horacio & Eddie (He/Him/His)

Philadelphia, PA

interviewed (yesterday)& photographed (a few months ago) by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

granvarones storytelling covid19 quarantine gay trans bisexual gender non binary lgbtqia latinx afro latinx

growing up in the 1990’s, there were ballads and then there were slow jams. that distinction mattered in the early 90’s. today, with the advent of streaming, it is a norm to consume multiple genres in just one playlist. but in 1990, that required more work. if you wanted to listen to pop, you turned to mtv or turned your radio dial to a top 40 station. if you wanted to listen to r&b music, you watched BET music videos shows or switched your dial to an r&b station. and this was only possible for those of us who lived in bigger metropolitan cities because many cities didn’t even have a black radio station. my point is that radio was hella segregated. so “ballads” were code for non-black and pop slow songs. “slow jam” was an indication of an r&b slow tempo grove that made you feel all the things. that is thanks to the late radio, tv personality and quite storm originator, melvin lindsey.

raised in washington, d.c., melvin attended howard university and interned at WHUR, a local adult contemporary radio station. melvin’s break happened in may 1976 after he was asked to dj as a last minute substitute. he compiled a stack of his favorite records (the 1970’s way of creating a spotify playlist) that included smokey robinson, the delfonics, isley brothers and others. although young and inexperienced, melvin’s silky and calm voice coupled with his choice of smooth r&b songs were an instant hit with listeners. by 1977, he was a radio staple with his own nightly show, “the quiet storm.”


named after a 1974 smokey robinson song, by his friend and mentor, cathy hughes, the quiet storm quickly became more than a radio show – it became a radio format that was duplicated by black radio stations though out the country. every night from 8pm-12am, quiet storm radio shows played mid and slow tempo r&b songs with very few interruptions. the show creating an easy listening and intimate mood for listens. it is usually the quiet storm that folks are referring to when they says “baby making music.”

melvin’s impact cannot be overstated. the quiet storm helped to make luther vandross, freddy jackson, anita baker, sade, babyface and keith sweat, just to name a few, r&b mega-stars.

in the late 1980s and early 1990’s, melvin became a fixture on BET as a co-host of “screen scene,” a daily show that in the same vein as entertainment tonight and access hollywood. he also filled in for video soul host donnie simpson on many occasions.


throughout the 1990’s, the quiet storm became cemented in black radio history. artists were recording and releasing songs specifically targeting the format – which by then had become a genre of its own. many artists often released “quiet story remixes.” but melvin, the format’s creator would not live to witness its growth.

on march 26, 1992, melvin lindsey died from complications of AIDS. he was just 36 years. a few nights before his death, after going public with his diagnosis and prognosis, melvin addressed listeners of WHUR, the radio station where his career began, to thank them for their support.

granvarones melvin lindsey aids history black queer visionary lgbtqia gay trans bisexual gender non binary afrolatinx latinx Spotify

Growing up, I’ve always considered music to be a huge part of my life. I used to sometimes joke about how I’d leave my current city and one day become a popular DJ in Miami or Atlanta. While my dreams of being a DJ haven’t clearly panned out into a serious decision, social distancing, COVID-19, and virtual parties have re-sparked my interest in creating playlists and having people dance to tunes. Throughout COVID-19 I’ve celebrated/held down the music on birthdays for myself, family members, and friends. This was all done through folks coming together to decide on a time, wishing the individual happy birthday, and jamming to tunes so loud that my neighbors sometimes knocked.

When my friends first suggested that I have a “Virtual Birthday Party,” I was shook. As my birthday got closer, I began to take the option seriously and how it was a low-level activity where no costs were involved. Considering that we were all advised to stay at home, I continued to ask myself “Well, what are people going to be doing at 8PM on Thursday anyway?” We quickly set up a webinar link, sent a calendar invite, and spread the word on social media.


To see my family members and friends on several screens and webinar apps showed me how it was probably in my best interest to virtually celebrate with people. For instance, if I were going to have a party in person, most of the people that joined wouldn’t have been able to come anyway due to locations, etc.

As weird as it may have initially seemed to host a virtual birthday party, and now DJ for others, I’m reminded of my passions: community and dancing. No matter what here’s what I’ll always remember that during this time of social isolation: the beat goes on.

granvarones queer gay trans bisexual gender non binary storytelling latinx afrolatinx playlist covid19 Spotify

i came out to my mother when my grandmother died in 2006. and back then I had a cousin that was gay - - that IS gay - -he has not a stopped being gay. (laughs) he was living around here and my mother would always ask me, “why do you hang out with him so much?” eventually, i got upset when she said “it doesn’t bother you?” and I was like, “mom, would it bother you if i was gay?” and she was like “are you gay?” insaid “yeah.” but i was upset so wasn’t that soft. there was some screaming. then after that, we had that long conversation and the crying.

she’s been to the pride parade here. i bring her and i put out a chair for her and she watches the whole show. ya know, the first thing she said when i brought her here to wilton manor - she said, “i never thought they were old gay people.” she always thought that came and were young and “cute” and then when she saw older gay couples walking and holding hands she was like, “aawwww.” it blew her mind.

i still have to teach her. like with my boyfriend, i had to teach her that he is not just my “special friend,” he is my boyfriend. i need you to call him my boyfriend. i explain to her that i remember when you told me once, “don’t introduce me to every single person. just introduce me to the one.” and i explain to her that this is the one right now. you need to get with it.

he went with me to washington, heights for thanksgiving, in a house with like 50 dominicans. (laughs). i prepared my mom. i was like, “mom, i’m gonna take him. and you’re gonna get questions.” he’s the first person that has ever been to my family gatherings. it’s a big thing for me and my family. that know i’m gay but they never seen me with a partner. it was good until one my aunt’s found out that he didn’t speak spanish. ya know, older generations.

josé, he/him/his

wilton manor, florida

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

granvarones storytelling gay trans queer bisexual gender non binary lgbtqia latinx afrolatinx

many of the important moments and even many of the not-so-important moments often times play out in my memory through music. for example, every time i hear “unbreakable” by alicia keys, i am reminded of the night i tested hiv positive. i was in the car with my best friend on the way to his house trying to process this new health reality when “unbreakable” began to play. in that moment, i thought, “for real, universe? this song? right now? does everything have to be like a mellow-dramatic made-for-TV movie with me?” i actually said it out loud. i know this because best friend and i laughed. then cried.

music grounds me. always has. which is why i write a lot about music, specifically the music of the 1990s. and these past few weeks have been unlike anything i have experienced emotionally, mentally and physically. well, i can think of something that may come close to this experience but this “short” post is already dramatic enough. anywho, just as i created mixed-tapes for my friends and family members in the 1990s to express my love and gratitude, i have created a spotify playlist that includes songs that has been helping me to survive. i humbly share it with you all.

thank you for your love and continued support. may this playlist give you some or all of the things it has given me.

enjoy, dance, sing, and be safe.

Spotify granvarones covid19 healing queer gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary lgbtqia latinx afrolatinx

chris: my brother really continues to teach me how to be unapologetically me. he is so unapologetically him ALL the time. like, i have never met another person who is able to be like “i don’t give a fuck if you don’t like anything about me. i’m pretty sure about who i am.” i’ve even told this to people about you (andrew), you are going to do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it and that’s it. that’s something i have learned because out of the two of us, i am the more reserved one. i am figuring out that i can be be that way too and that there is nothing wrong with me and he teaches me that.

andrew: you (chris) teach me to never be afraid to stand up. seeing you defend me when you felt i needed to be defended has always been very inspiring. we would be on the train and somebody would say something crazy about me and my brother would be like, “what the did you say!?” we much homophobia we DON’T get inside our home, we don’t live in a bubble. we don’t live in a place that is always going to be safe to be queer. and so i see you (chris) as a hero. your ability to stand up for people. you taught me “if my queer friends and family aren’t safe, i’m not safe.” that is something i have learned from you.

chris (he/him) & andrew (he/they)

bronx, new york

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

granvarones portrait afrolatinx latinx queer gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary storytelling lgbtqia

the year was 1982.

new york began the year as one of the most dangerous cities in the united states with a record 637,451 reported felonies by the end of year into what is now known as the AIDS epidemic but before the urging of activists during a july 27 meeting a new york to adopt the term “AIDS”, much of the media, researchers and medical providers called it “GRID (gay related immune deficiency syndrome,” “the gay plague” or “gay cancer.” the city’s underground club begins emerge into the pop consciousness after the release of madonna’s debut single “everybody” becomes a club hit. however, new york’s gay clubs are still under siege by the city’s police who still routinely raid clubs. on the night of september 1982, the NYPD violently raided blues, a manhattan gay club primarily patronized by black and latino queers and trans folks. police locked the doors and beat patrons for more than an hour sending 35 club-goers to the hospital. police were never charged.

this is the new york that hector valle, a 22 year-old vibrant puerto rican gay man with a flair for style, existed in. hector was widely known throughout the community and dance clubs for his elegant and athletic style of vogue. while not formally a part of any ballroom house hector was enchanted by new york’s growing ballroom scene, and made the bold decision to start his own house – the house of extravaganza (original spelling until 1989). hector set out to recruit members from the pre-gentrified christopher street pier from the legendary queer dance utopia, paradise garage which would helped inform the xtravanganza culture. one of the first official xtravaganzas included a young puerto rican trans woman who later become an icon in her own right – angie xtravaganza.


the house of xtravaganza made their debut in 1983 and under the leadership and guidance of hector and angie, who served as house mother and father, the then not-so-experienced house quickly emerged as one of the most exciting new houses on the scene. as their popularity expanded, the xtravaganzas became a fiercely close family on and off the runway. hector’s pioneering vision was in full fruition.

in just two years, new york was rapidly becoming a different place. gentrification was beginning to change the landscape of new york’s nightlife and culture. madonna had emerged from the underground scene and was reaching pop icon status after the release of her 1984 sophomore album, “like a virgin.” And after the protest of black and latino LGBTQIA people and allies The NYPD was no longer raiding gay clubs but in the fever hystreria of AIDS panic has begun to close bathhouses. And by the end of 1985, AIDS had claimed over 5,000 people including the pioneering hector valle xtravaganza. hector was just 25 years old.

the house that hector built would continue under the leadership of angie xtravaganza until her own death in 1993 at the young of age of 28. by the late 1980’s, the house broke into the mainstream appearing in both time and american vogue magazines. the house was also prominently featured in the 1990 groundbreaking documentary film “paris is burning.” and two of the xtravaganza children, josé and luis xtravaganza rocketed to international stardom as dancers for the madonna, the singer who started her career the same year the xtravaganza was founded.

almost 40 years later, hector’s vision remains stronger than ever. the house of xtravaganza continues to be one of the most influential and iconic houses in ballroom history. one of the first houses to incorporate HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment messaging into their mission and vision, the legacy of founding father hector valle xtravaganza still shines. and for someone known for his flair, this makes perfect sense.

Hector Xtravaganza granvarones queer gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary ballroom history lgbtqia queer history hiv/aids latinx afrolatinx

About two week ago, I did the very rare thing of going live on Instagram. I asked my comrade and my good, good gurlfriend Abdul-Aliy Muhammad to join me as we discussed “How to Survive A Plague…Again.” For about an hour and a half, Abdul and I talked about what it was like to live through the AIDS epidemic as it was in the 1990s. We shared stories about bearing witness as our mothers navigate and provide support to those living and dying during a time when Black and Brown communities were left to their own devices. As a few dozen viewers watched and engaged with our Instagram chat, we shared how we were coping with the current COVID-19 pandemic and how we can honor and look to the work of poz activists of the past who created an organizing, mobilizing and survival guide for people surviving a plague. We landed on the Denver Principles.

So to continue that conversation and to honor the requests of several viewers who joined us during that chat,  here is Abdul-Aliy giving a brief history of the Denver Principles and how, 30 years later, the principles are still relevant.

The Denver Principles is a radical document, its contents fit on one page, but the words are sublime and pointed. The drafters of the principles stormed the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference, which took place in June 1983. This conference, held in Denver, Colorado, would host the Second National AIDS Forum. At the closing presentation of the forum, Richard Berkowitz led the unrolling of a banner that read “Fighting For Our Lives” and read their declaration: We condemn attempts to label us victims” that “implies defeat” and suggests that we are helpless. “We are People With AIDS” demanding support and not a “scapegoat” to “blame” for “the epidemic or generalize about our lifestyles.” The crux of this declaration was to make clear that autonomy is still resident in our bodies, that we have the right “as full and satisfying  sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.” These words at a time when oppressive messaging told HIV positive people that they could no longer be fully seen as human because they seroconverted.

“Any revolution of the body owes its indebtedness to many enslaved people who found themselves at the behest of white supremacist structures of control, experimentation and intentional infection, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.”

These principles changed the relationship between medical provider and patient, expertise and care were held by both the AIDS patient and doctor. It was a bold repudiation of paternalism and showed the variance between those impacted by the disease and the ever present judgment of caregivers.  Berkowitz and Michael Cullen went on to pen “How To Have Sex In An Epidemic” stating that “sex doesn’t make you sick, diseases do” and offering examples of how to contain STIs from a “closed circle of fuck buddies” to “jerk off clubs” in what became truly iconic writing. Any revolution of the body owes its indebtedness to many enslaved people who found themselves at the behest of white supremacist structures of control, experimentation and intentional infection, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Today we face an unprecedented strain on the already inadequate and anti-black U.S. healthcare infrastructure. This problem, coupled with a president that seems to be wearing no clothes, makes for a deadly combination. The rationing of care to those who have severe symptoms, which is discriminatory, is already happening. In Alabama, POZ reports that the state’s “pandemic guidelines recommend winnowing out people with certain medical conditions” including AIDS. Black women are being told that they aren’t a priority for COVID-19 testing and then later dying of the disease. Recent data reveals that COVID-19 is killing Black people  in large numbers. 70 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in Chicago are of Black people. This is being reflected in New Orleans and Milwaukie.

This means that organizing around something that models the Denver Principles would be just as needed now as it was then. A nation in crisis will seek to allocate resources to those deemed desirable by the system. This means that communities who are already stigmatized, marginalized, and given shoddy medical care will be the most vulnerable. Elderly, immunocompromised, and houseless people will be ravaged by COVI-19 without movements organized to ensure they will receive the care they deserve. Incarcerated people are also at a higher risk for sickness due to the lack of sufficient sanitation behind bars. I think we should be demanding the following:

  1. Free and adequate healthcare that allows everyone the ability to fight for their lives.
  2. Care that isn’t rationed, withheld, or denied.
  3. The right to resuscitation and that DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate orders) aren’t universally applied.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a poz organizer and writer from Philadelphia.

granvarones queer gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary covid19 hiv/aids aids history queer history latinx afrolatinx


i know there are days where the oppression feels like glue. Somewhere, somebody, is melting that glue with sex, with substance, with story, because it’s spring during a pandemic, and there is a body here that makes heat when you rub it. I praise science & brujeria. I was a boy that became a graveyard for a virus that doesn’t die. Welcome to our homecoming, there is no word for cure here, now that we are medicine.

José, He/They

Durham, NC

Gran Varones Fellow

NYHAAD granvarones queer trans gay bisexual gendernonbinary lgbtqia portrait latinx afrolatinx

last august, hydeia broadbent celebrated her 35th birthday. this wasn’t just a milestone but a testament to the sheer determination of life and hope.

diagnosed with hiv at three years old, hydeia was not expected to survive past age five. and in 1987, years almost a decade before the breakthrough of hiv treatment, this prognosis was pretty accurate for children battling the opportunistic infections brought on by HIV. hydeia’s mother immediately became a fierce advocate and enrolled hydeia into clinical trials with the hopes of prolonging her life. and no easy feet during especially during a time when hiv clinical trials did not include women, young people and people of color. 

a chance meeting with the late hiv advocate elizabeth glaser in 1988 at the national institutes of health, where they were both receiving treatment, led to hydeia becoming a public speaker. after telling her story across the world including on a tv special for nickelodeon with magic johnson, 20/20, good morning america and becoming one of the most memorable guests of the oprah winfrey show. at just age 10, hydeia had become the face of not just pediatric aids but the first generation of children born with hiv.

in the years since, hydeia has dedicated her life to promoting hiv prevention among young people, specifically young black women as well as advocating for accessible treatment and healthcare for all young people living with hiv.

today, on national youth hiv/aids awareness day, we honor and celebrate all of the work hydeia has done to center young people living with hiv. we thank hydeia broadbent for teaching us all the power of storytelling as a radical tactic for activism and advocacy.

NYHAAD national youth hiv/aids awareness day granvarones storytelling hiv/aids queer gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary lgbtqia

“Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious.”

Susan Sontag, Illness As Metaphor

In December of 2019, a virus emerged in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei Province, located in China. This novel coronavirus was now beginning to infect, sicken and kill people. This stirred global pandamonium, rooted in anti-asian racism, prejudice and xenophobia. As the world began to construct narratives of how this emerged, coronavirus was steadily building up its network, and infecting many globally. Scientists point to a species jump, from animals to humans. This is the trajectory of many viruses we know of, such as HIV. It was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization on February 11, 2020, meaning coronavirus disease and tagged with nineteen to establish that it surfaced in 2019. Interestingly enough, a simulation of a pandemic caused by a “novel zoonotic coronavirus” was held by the Center For Health Security, in October 2019. The scenario suggested that this virus would be “transmitted from bats to pigs to people that eventually becomes efficiently transmissible from person to person, leading to a severe pandemic.” In this simulation, the origin of the virus were pig farms in Brazil, but the accuracy of this exercise provides eerie foreboding.

Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, sounds familiar because it is in the family of viruses that caused the 2003 Sars Outbreak. This current outbreak was not quelled in the same way and now is identified as a pandemic, which means it is spreading rapidly, globally.

HIV history reminds us of another time of panic and uncertainty. HIV is transmitted by blood, seminal and vaginal fluid; anal fluid and breast milk, that enters the bloodstream through mucousal tissue and/or other ways. Sars-CoV-2 appears to spread by oral or nose droplets, aerosol and surfaces touched by hands, or indirectly sprayed by the droplets of those infected. This makes COVID-19 more contagious than HIV. It has been proven by the exponential infection rates growth around the world. Yet many people are committed to believing the racist notion that it is an “Asian” virus.


HIV first infected a young Black boy in St. Louis named Robert Rayford, who may have been the first person documented in the U.S. to die of AIDS. A reporter first talked about Robert in a Chicago Tribune article in 1987. HIV clocked the world’s collective consciousness on June 5, 1981 when the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reported 5 cases of pneumocystis pneumonia among previously healthy “homosexuals” in Los Angeles. This lit a storm of hatefulness on the marginalized gay community and AIDS, which was once called the “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” became the juggernaut that leveled whole queer communities. Many beautiful people perished and there are still many dying silently of AIDS, even today.


Ronald Reagan, a republican, was president of the United States when HIV attacked and Donald Trump is currently a republican president during the coronavirus pandemic. Both are adherants to white supremacist frameworks of government, with Reagan concerned with trickle down economics and the war on drugs, a failure that lead to the mass incarceration of Black and brown folks, another enemy to HIV positive people. Historically, Reagan slowly dragged his feet during this public health crisis as many buried their loved ones. Trump, concerned with faux nationalism, currently uses his law and order rhetoric to galvanize white working class people against organized foes: One week it’s Black people in Chicago, the next Muslims, and lately it is China. By moving his target, it allows for a never ending list of the made up culprits of his imagined war that has devastating material impacts on communities he named as public enemies.

Reagan ignored the crisis, a top official laughed at AIDS and ACT UP fought back, organizing radical direct actions, throwing ashes on the white house lawn during the first Bush’s Presidency, holding public funerals, making trauma actionable and blowing lids off of hypocrisy, inaction and the violence of indifference. Reagan’s nonresponse was like Trump’s passive and deflecting response, both men, white and Presidents ravaged communities by either shifting blame, turning their backs or escalating fears by creating an enemy to point to. In Reagan’s day it was the gays and Trump’s enemy is China. Proving that white supremacy is the true parallel.

Like ACT UP, formations of other gay men came together as People With AIDS. Communities of the dying: the faggots, the transwomen and the sex workers took to the streets, collected medicines at home and shared knowledge to get us through an epidemic. We were held by a loving community of lesbians, radical doctors and unapologetic drag queens. We brazed through losing many while saving our souls and preserving our histories with undying collective work. We are always the answer we are searching for. Powerful, even when we are down, shining a light on the wrongs of humanity.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a poz organizer and writer from Philadelphia.

granvarones abdul-aliy muhammad hiv/aids aids history queer gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary lgbtqia latinx afro-latinx

I was born in Mexico, grew up there as a little kid but then I’ve spent most of my life now in Houston, Texas.I was nine years old actually, my dad had to come over to the US undocumented since he was 14 years old. Back in the 80s, it was more like he would spend some time working in Texas, go back to Mexico for a few months, do that back-and-forth and then that’s how he met my mom and they got married and all that. At age 9 we moved to Houston.

I mean it was weird because I come from a really tiny town that had maybe like 1500 people. We only had one school and one church, I mean everyone knew each other, it was very rural. And then I moved to Houston which was this huge city, where I couldn’t, yeah it was way bigger, but it felt a lot smaller than my town. In my town as a 6, 7, 8-year-old I could just roam around, like go to my friends house, play all around, but in Houston we moved into a tiny apartment and that’s what I thought Houston was, kind of like a tiny apartment. Getting used to that took a while but then I think that I was the lucky to find a lot of community and a lot of folks in Houston that basically made me stay here and I’ve been living in Houston ever since.

Well, I was a big nerd in high school so I did a lot of school things. One of the things I did was theatre. I started doing theater since I was in like six grade 6th grade, and you know I was like a really shy kid and didn’t like talking a lot. I also wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of school like I never was able to go to like their houses, they couldn’t come over to my house. Theatre was like the thing that I was allowed to do where it was still outside of school, but you know it was still seen as like you’re taking a class or you’re doing it for like an extracurricular and that was actually the thing that helped me most like connect with people.

Theatre was in a lot of ways a place where the queer kids would go because it was that space where you could put on different characters and sometimes the characters that we are putting on weren’t fake, they were actually the real ones, but we had to pretend. We had the space to be like “Oh this is something we can do.” When I was in high school I wasn’t at the point where I was out, or a lot of other people were out, but there with us understanding that in that space we could be whoever we wanted to be and that included like our sexual orientation, gender expression, and all of that, even if we didn’t say it out loud .

My parents came to shows and it was weird in a way. My mom actually passed away like the beginning of my junior year of high school, so she went to some of the first performances. The thing about my family, my parents in particular, was that they didn’t speak English so they would sit through an entire like two hour play that was all in English. They didn’t understand mostly anything that was being said, but then, you know, every time at the end of the performance, they were always like “That was really good, I really liked it.” I always wondered like how could they do that, I don’t think I could sit through like a two hour thing where I don’t understand what is going on, but I think in a way that kind of that was really cool to me, but at the same time I wonder if they understood, like not just what was happening in the plays, but also what I was trying to express through being in the plays. That was always like an interesting thing– they would go to all the shows, even if they couldn’t understand most of what was happening.

My interest in theatre was mainly in Houston, but in Mexico the one thing that I remember since I was a little kid was just being in the kitchen all the time because that’s where my mom was, that’s where all my aunt’s were, that’s basically where all the women in my family were–in the kitchen. I remember being there and it was just like this really special place, again ,where I felt, I never thought about this but in a way that was like a theater space. The kitchen was kind of like a theater. Every time my aunts, grandma, and mom were cooking they were always telling these stories about when they were growing up or people that they knew. Actually, now that I think about it that was kind of like “theater” that I had before I came to the US, and then had like you know like a more sort of formal or like traditional definition of the term.

In the kitchen I mean I learned so much about my family, the town, and maybe some stuff that I shouldn’t have been learning when I was that age, but seeing them there, they were the ones in power. In power in every aspect of it from deciding the dishes, dividing the labor among themselves, to like who is leading the conversation of the stories that they are telling.

José Eduardo, He/They

Houston, TX

Interviewed by: Armonté Butler

Photographed: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

granvarones storytelling family gay trans bisexual gendernonbinary portrait photography

long known as a mother, activist and defender of trans women, sex workers and undocumented LGBTQIA folks, lorena borjas dedicated her life to the liberation of those living on the margins.

lorena immigrated to the new york from veracruz, mexico in 1981 - just as the AIDS epidemic was beginning to ravage LGBTQ communities. the illusion of queer liberation that felt within reach in the late 1970’s was giving way to fierce homophobia and transphobia. these were especially dangerous times for queer and trans people. .

lorena survived systematic violence and abuse upon her arrival. in an 2018 interview with voices of new york, lorena stated “in those days, it was a real crime to be a transgender immigrant of color.”

fueled by her own experiences of injustice, lorena embarked on her path of activism in 1995 when she organized the first march for trans women in new york city. this then led her to develop support systems for trans women living with HIV, sex workers, and LGBTQIA people who were experiencing anti-immigrant violence.

in 2012, lorena cofounded the lorena borjas community fund. the volunteer-based project provided financial and legal aid to LGBTQIA immigrants. two weeks ago, lorena organized and set-up an emergency community fund for transgender people financially impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. the fund has since raised close to $18,000.

sadly, lorena borjas died from complications of covid-19 on monday march 30, 2020. her loss and the collective grief felt by those all over the country is monumental. today we are grieving and raging. today and forever, we honor and celebrate her memory and all that she so generously gave to the world.

rest well, miss lorena.

queer history trans history granvarones remembrance latinx afrolatinx trans queer
people living AIDS formed coalitions for each other years before then US present ronald reagan publicly acknowledged AIDS. people living with AIDS mobilized to feed, house, nurse, care and fight for themselves and each other. they became their own researchers, lobbyists and drug smugglers. and this was done before the advent of the internet and social media. people with living AIDS created the template of how to survive a plague as governments willfully fail us.

one of the people who was in the thick of AIDS advocacy from the mid-1980’s until his death in 1990, was queer activist, author and queer historian, vito russo.

vito’s activism was threaded throughout his entire existence. always an out and proud gay man, vito’s activism began immediately after the stonewall riots when he joined the then emerging gay activists alliance. he would later independently organize camp-film festivals examining the representation of gay and lesbians in film. his 1981 book “the celluloid closet” was a culmination of this work.

as one of the first out-gay men to create and host a cable access show in 1983, vito’s commitment to challenging the lgbtq representation in medio led his to co-found GLAAD.

after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, vito became an active member of ACT-UP, one of the most influential and effective organizing groups in history. during a 1988 an ACT-UP demonstration in front of the new york state capitol in albany, vito delivered a passionate speech entitled “why we fight” (full speech) that till this day still resonates. especially now as we all are now surviving a plague.

“why we fight” is a reminder of who we are and all the power we posses as people. it is also a call to action to continue to organize and survive with each other – every step of the way. it is also a promise of hope that this plague will end and we will win.

granvarones aids history queer history storytelling gay queer trans bisexual gendernonbinary latinx afrolatinx