THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged remembrance)

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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.

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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.

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whitney houston was a queer icon decades before the term became a marketing ploy. she was one of us before, during and after all of the rumors. confirmation was never required or desired from us - the gay boys who lip synced her songs when left alone in the room. we, the gay boys knew that the world would peck and pick it apart - the connection she had with us. the little gay boys.

i have distinct memories of singing “how will i know” as an 8 year-old for hours as i babysat for aunt janet while she out visiting her then boyfriend in prison. i remember knowing that “didn’t we almost have it all” was a song about loss and regret years before i experienced how polarizing that kind of pain can be. i remember a lot of my life in music and whitney’s voice is ever present.

i bought every album, every single. because that was my hobby. i memorized her every achievement because knowledge about divas was the only education i valued. when other boys talked about which football player scored the most touchdowns, i’d remind them that whitney held the record for the most consecutive #1 songs on the hot 100. SEVEN! and eleven total.

whitney houston was one of the most successful recording artists of all time. she is still regarded as the greatest vocalist of lifetime. all of these are undisputed facts. she was a singer, song writer, actor, producer, pioneer, icon and mother. and she paid the greatest of prices for her success. the queer icon who was simply because she existed, sacrificed everything so that her voice would reach little gay boys dancing in the dark.

whitney houston, the legend who was oh so human, died on february 11, 2012. i still remember where i was and what i was wearing. i remember the feelings of lost and regret. i remember thinking, “didn’t we almost have it all.”

there has been much conversation about whitney’s loves, feelings and all of the things she kept a secret. i have no opinion, really. i am grateful for the soundtrack she provided. and i am filled with gratitude that i got exist on this earth the same time to witness her greatness in real time.

rest well, whitney.

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Gloria Casarez 1971 - 2014

We were two of the few queer Latinxs working and advocating for youth in Philly’s LGBTQ community. I would say that we were fearless but honestly, we were young, hopeful and driven by our fear of not being seen and heard. We’d sit and share battle scar stories. She shared the struggle of balancing her privilege of education and community organizing. I shared my struggle of growing up in a house with crack-addicted mother and wanting to break free. This made us each other’s confidant but the love made us family.

Gloria provided me opportunities to see a world outside of North Philly. She would pick me up from 9th and Indiana to take me to art shows and to restaurants that I never knew existed. Through her I discovered the music of Ani Defranco, Björk and The Roots. I discovered hummus, purple tortilla chips and black olives; things my Puerto Rican mother never purchased! It was through Gloria that I discovered my magic. This made her my mentor but the love made us family.


When I experienced my first heartbreak and lost my mind, she took me to a bookstore and said, “Pick out any journal book you want. It’s my treat.” When I was a dancer and had no way of getting to the airport, she woke up early on a Saturday morning and drove like a bat outta hell to make sure I didn’t miss my flight. When I turned 21, she said “Wear your Friday night outfit, I am taking you out to get blasted!” When I had no place to go on Thanksgiving, she took me to her family’s house – for several years! When my brother died, she rushed to my side and said “Get dressed. We need to get breakfast.”

On the day my brother’s murderer was found guilty and his family threatened to harm my mom outside of the courthouse, Gloria rushed over and dropped my mother to a safe place. After, she took me out to eat. Now that I think about it, we spent a lot of time together in her car – all of her cars. We spent a lot of our time eating, laughing, bitching, debating and drinking. We spent a lot of time loving and admiring the people we both had become.

The last time Gloria and I had lunch, we worked on the text that would eventually be the description of Gran Varones. We chatted about the next wave of our revolution.

Gloria Casarez was Philadelphia’s first Director LGBTQ Affairs. She was one of the founders if Empty The Shelters and the Philly Dyke March. To most she was an icon. But to me, she was my sister. To most she was a fearless activist, community organizer and fierce leader. Those things made her legendary, but to me, she was my sister.

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everything i know about my family’s history, which only goes as far back to my grandmother, was told to me by my mother and my aunts. it was in their stories about my grandmother that i got a sense of the woman she was beyond my limited but very complicated experience with her.

my grandmother moved from puerto rico to philadelphia to escape an abusive relationship sometime in the early 1960’s. she endured and survived the loss of the death of an infant. she once worked as a cook at a restaurant to support herself and eight kids. this is why all my mom and aunts could cook their asses off! when she married the man that i called my grandfather, she opened her home to his younger brother and sisters who needed a family. she had a sister who still lived in puerto rico. arecibo, i was told. these are pieces about my grandmother i didn’t know that i didn’t know.

i once asked my aunt janet how i wound up at my grandmother’s house as a young child. janet told me that after my grandmother passed on the section 8 three bedroom apartment to my mother in the late 70’s, she made surprise visits to check in on my mother who was already struggling with alcoholism. on one of these visits, my grandmother found me alone at home in the crib. in an effort to teach my mother a lesson, she took back home with her. this is where i lived at many points in my childhood.

my grandmother made a million mistakes as a caregiver. many of them not only shaped me as a human but shaped our relationship for decades. during those years, we existed in two entirely different universes. i would get updates on her wellbeing from my aunts and my mother. i wanted to ask if they ever told her about me but i never did. i suppose i was afraid that she didn’t care.

two years ago, after initial resistance, and by that i mean the kind of “well i guess i ain’t fuckin’ going there ever again!” kinda resistance, i attended a family holiday event where my grandmother would be present. i knew not to romanticize our “reunion” for many reasons but partly because of the language barrier. i always struggled with spanish and the only english words she could utter were the occasional “fuck you” and “ok.”

as i walked into my aunt’s house, my grandmother was the first person i saw. she was sitting in a rocking chair, frail and hair completely grey. she was older than i remembered. suddenly, i couldn’t remember all of the things that made her a monster to me. everything, well almost everything, the pain, the resentment and the hate all fell away. i hugged her for first time as an adult and introduced her to my son. when she hugged him, she hugged the little boy in me that was still waiting to matter to her.

the stories i have long told myself and others was that my grandmother was mean and careless to me and my brothers. my reflection and experiences are valid. i am also now aware that the complete story is more complexed and complicated.

last week, my grandmother, ramona almodóvar, passed away. i am still processing my feelings and everything that it will come to mean to me and my family. thankfully, i don’t have any immediate regrets. i do however, have many wishes. i wish i told her that i did love her out loud. i wish i told her that i was hurt. i wish i told her how grateful i am, even through all of the shit we both went through, that she wasn’t one of those nasty homophobic grandmoms. lastly, i wish i had thanked her for demonstrating a fierce kind of love when she cared for her two children who succumbed to AIDS complications during a time when families still kept that a secret. it is that kind of wavering mothering that is at the center of my advocacy, my parenting and my life as a person living with hiv.

i hope my grandmother is finally at peace. i hope she knows that as i get older, the more i am able to make sense of the trauma that created the wedge between us. i hope she knows that i see her and our relationship through a more loving and forgiving lens. and it is only because of this i am finally able to piece together the parts of her history, our history, that i have always had but didn’t know what to do with them. and it is these all these pieces that i am almost at peace with her, with myself and with us.

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i don’t have video of my mother laughing. the sound of her laugh exists only now in my mind. every year, i fear that i will forget the sound of her raucous laugh. afraid that my memory will instead recall laughs that are similar to my mother’s in place of hers. but today, i am glad that i remember.

i have written about my mother and my childhood extensively. anyone who has followed this project knows that my mother and i lived through the hell that is addition and dehumanizing poverty. and how we both managed to live on this earth after the murder of my younger brother nicholas.

i sometimes only remember the shit that ripped us apart. not because i am addicted to trauma (lawd knows that is my brand lol) but rather because of my constant paranoia that history could repeat itself. i find myself studying and examining all of the variables that made what happened to us happen. intellectually, i know that is impossible because many of our challenges were beyond our control. but still, i study our journey so that i may be able to beat and/or out smart circumstance.

today, i am choosing to write about my mother in a different light. a light that i do not ever want to forget. so it is imperative that i share.

she loved her kids. even through addiction. she loved her all 8 of her children.

she loved to play parcheesi. when my brothers were asleep, we’d play that board game for hours.

she made the best fried chicken. when she came down from her high, she would wake up me up the middle of the night to eat with her. this was one of my fave moments.

she always wanted to visit russia. this was during the 80’s and the cold war was at its peek. i like to think this was her way of resisting.

she fought for everything.

she loved to listen to the oldies every sunday night.

she loved diana ross, princess diana and tina turner.

she loved to laugh and dance.

with little resources. she gave me everything i needed.

with little formal education, she taught me everything i needed to know.

today, on the 4th anniversary of her death, i speak her name, ROSA M. ORTIZ-FONSECA, into the universe so that it never forgets that she existed.

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We are all made of stars, astronomers are now saying

Powerful supernova explosions

From neighboring galaxies

Made their way into ours

And became us

Our rhythmic pulsing

​In the night

Confirms our membership

​To an exclusive club

Of survivors

To their massacres

We are

Both miracles

And mutants


Is alien

And queer

To their worlds

​This Galaxy

If modern astronomers can be trusted

And nearly half

Let’s say 49 percent

Of these planets

These bodies

Are composed

Of residual galactic matter

Then the iron in our blood

Is an outcast mixture

Of collapsed stars

Beyond the Milky Way

We are

Both miracles

And mutants

If the heaviest excesses

Of a galaxy’s death

Resurrect in the DNA of a neighbor

​Attack as asteroids

​Bring us to a pause as comets

Then no man-made eclipse

Will keep us from fashioning

Our own Milk Ways

Our own Galaxies

We are the Big Bang

We are our own Theory

We will be

As Shakespeare’s hero Orlando

Overthrown not by our enemies

But pulled together by love and fate

​The dark energies of the cosmos

And this time

The exiled will offer no protection

​From the lioness

The survivors will not be

​Your fallen stars

​Your martyrs

And it will be our bodies

​Their clouds of gas

​The bygone moons

That we conjure

​As we dance

​And as we die

That will herald in the New Galaxy

Let the silences continue

​As you revel in your red skies

​Of ravaged flesh

Your eulogies remain unspoken

​As you erect Towers of Babel

​Exploit this labor

​Deny this divinity

​Only because you have no language

​To contain our phenomena

For those we have buried

​Your throwaways

​The castoffs of your retrograde

Exist not in far-away dimensions

​Inert and obliterated

But rotate about us

Like Saturn’s Rings

​Glorious unions of dust and light

Their dazzling is already Testimony

The shooting stars

​To which you pray

​Because death is mesmerizing for you

Occasionally survive your fires and winds

​And become meteorites

Previously wistful streaks of light

​The witnesses to your glassy gaze

​Break through atmospheres

​And make their mark

We are

the pulsing, dancing, meteorites

Survivors of the fires.

Our own Tributes.

We are the 49.

And this dancing

​The Big Dips

​The halo of our silhouettes

Is both a eulogy

And a Resurrection.

​Of the fallen

Their Last Dance

​Has just begun.

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our hearts are heavy. just received the rebuke stating news that brayan has passed. i met brayan two years ago after he reached out expressing interest in sharing his story with the project. he drove over an hour to los angeles to meet with me. i am so grateful we shared time & space. the universe now exists without one of the sweetest and most gentle humans i have ever met.

brayan alain pena rodriguez, we speak your name.

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born on september 7, 1957, in columbia, ohio, jermaine, who was already a budding entertainer, got his first taste of fame when became a soul dancer after his family moved to chicago in 1972. jermaine became a local celebrity and when the show relocated to los angeles, jermaine, along with friend, jody watley followed.

by 1979, jody was scoring hits as part of the r&b group, shalamar. jermaine joined the group on tour as a background dancer and singer.


a chance meeting with boy george of culture club in 1983, not only resulted in jermaine providing backing vocals on the group’s top 10 hit, “miss me blind”, but the group financed jermaine’s demo that eventually landed him a deal with arista records

his debut single, the cheeky, “the word is out”, was released in 1984 and became a hit on the club circuit. it wasn’t until two years later with the release of his sophomore album, “frantic romantic”, that jermaine scored his biggest hit.

released in 1986, “we don’t have to take our clothes off” was touted by some as an “abstinence only” theme during a time when the country’s panic around hiv dominated prevention messaging. the song became a worldwide hit reaching top 5 in the united states, uk, germany and canada.

the follow-up single “jody” was inspired by his friend jody watley. while not a major cross-over hit, it did land at #9 on the dance chart in late 1986.

jermaine was able to bounce back in 1988, when “say it again", (still one of my fave pop songs of all time), peaked at #27 on the hot 100 and top 10 around the world. it was his last major hit before fading from the music scene in 1991.

on march 17, 1997, jermaine died of complications caused by HIV. he was just 39 years old. his burial site was left without a tombstone (it didn’t even have a grave marker) for over 17 years. jermaine finally received tombstone in 2014 after it was anonymously paid for by a fan.

jermaine, we remember you.

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Pedro Zamora (February 29, 1972 - November 11, 1994), was one of the earliest stars of reality TV. He was also one of the first out Latino gay men living with HIV in popular media. Diagnosed when he was a junior in high school, Pedro became a hero. This is for him.

In 1994, a friend of mine (who we will call Lionel) asked me to accompany him to a clinic in West Philadelphia to get the results of his HIV test. Back then, HIV tests were not rapid – it took an entire week to get your results; a week of assessing and reevaluating every decision you had made up until that point. I remember feeling privileged that he had trusted me enough to ask me to go with him. It never occurred to me that Lionel would test positive. We were young teens already fighting daily battles to survive. My thought – my wish – was that we would be spared.

The visit didn’t last long. Honestly, I don’t remember much, besides being given condoms by the nurse. The nurse was gentle and kind. We put the condoms in our pockets and walked out. We made small talk on our way back to the car when we ran into another friend. We joked and decided that we would get lunch: a fish platter.

As we were waiting for our food order, Lionel whispered, “We are dying.” I paused and replied, “Here you go! What the hell do you mean?” He stated again, “We are all dying. Every day.” The realization that my friend was HIV positive immediately hit me. I remember telling myself “Don’t break. Keep a straight face.” Thank God I listened to my instincts because my other friend broke into tears and damn near fainted as Lionel disclosed that he was HIV-positive. My immediate response was “We will beat this. I promise you.” That’s what I said, but I knew (at the time) that I was lying. I knew that our conversations about the future would be no longer.


Later that night, I tuned into MTV’s “The Real World.” This was long before reality TV was a “thing.” While already into its third season, “The Real World” was still groundbreaking to me. I was immediately mesmerized by cast member Pedro Zamora. I was in complete awe that there was a Latino gay man on TV! I picked up the phone and called Lionel and told him to turn to MTV. We watched that episode while on the phone. We watched every episode while on the phone. There was something about the will, courage, and love that Pedro possessed that supported me in supporting Lionel. Pedro inspired us to have conversations about HIV with friends. Pedro shattered the myth that only white gay old men were impacted. Pedro reminded us that life does go on.

While watching the season finale, it was announced that Pedro had succumbed to HIV. My stomach sank. Lionel and I began to cry. I knew that we were not crying just for Pedro but for what would eventually happen to him. I knew there was nothing I could say. I no longer believed what I had initially said months earlier “We will beat this. I promise you.”

We managed these feelings and fears without adult support. We navigated shame without support groups. We continued to be teens doing teen things with a heavy secret; a secret that we shared only with Pedro. Now Pedro, our single hope of inspiration was gon.

in 1996, I was working as a peer youth educator at a local Latino AIDS organization in Philadelphia, when the news of a breakthrough in HIV treatment was announced. Suddenly there was hope. The promise I had made to Lionel two years earlier now seemed possible. Suddenly, the conversations about the future returned.

Looking back, I know for a fact that we would have not survived those years without the inspiration Pedro Zamora provided us. He sustained us so that Lionel could make it. Pedro – in his indirect way – served as both mentor and big brother. So on this day, in celebration of his birthday, I speak his name. We thank him for the love and possibility he provided then and the light he continues to provide us.

Thank you, Pedro, we are Gran Varones because of you were.

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in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, david cole, one half of c&c music factory, wrote and produced some of dance music’s biggest pop hits. today we celebrate his life and his musical legacy.

david was a brilliant piano player who got his start remixing songs as he was DJing in night clubs in NYC in 1985. it was during this time that David met his future musical partner,  fellow DJ robert clivillés. as a pair they would DJ at the hottest clubs while david customized songs by playing the keyboard during live mixes.  in 1987, david and robert along with future super successful dance producer and remixer, david morales and future freestyle producer, chip nuñez formed the dance group 2 puerto ricans, a black guy and a dominican. the group scored a top 50 UK hit with the dance song, “do it properly.” 

in additional to his extraordinary instrumental talents, David was awesome a great vocalist,. in 1988, this was showcased with his first solo single, the early house track, “you take my breath away.” 

it wasn’t long before other pop/dance artists came knocking at david’s door hoping that he would blessed them with his magic. in february of 1988, cole and clivilles scored their first top 30 pop hit as songwriters and producers with the cover girls’ freestyle classic, “because of the you.” the crossover success this single helped to break freestyle music at both pop and r&b radio as well as helping the cover girls’ independently released debut album “show me” reach gold status.

by february 1990, cole & clivilles were churning out so many hits that they had two of songs in the pop top 10 with the cover girls’ “we can’t go wrong” and seduction’s “two to make it right.” the latter was a dance trio that included future rupaul’s drag race judge, michelle visage. after signing a production deal with vendetta records, a subsidiary of a&m records, cole and clivilles formed seduction. the group’s debut album, “nothing matters without love”, featured four top 20 singles including “two to make it right” which peaked at #2 on the hot 100. 

february proved to be a lucky month for david cole. after writing and producing for other artists (chaka khan and grace jones), cole and clivilles signed to columbia records and formed c&c music factory. along with rapper, freedom williams, singer, zelma davis and the vocals of martha wash, c&c music factory  scored a monstrous hit with the jock-jam genre creating, “gonna make you sweat.” on the week of february 9, 1991, “sweat” peaked at #1 on the hot 100 and pushed c&c’s debut album into multi-platinum status.  

however, the success of did not come without controversy. just as the song was reaching it’s cultural peak, martha wash, who’s uncredited vocals are prominently featured on the track, and lip synced by zelma davis in the music video, sued c&c music factory and their record company, charging them with fraud, deceptive packaging and commercial appropriation. the case was settled in 1994 and martha would be featured on c&c music factory’s sophomore album as well as featured in their music, “do you wanna get funky.”

by the summer of 1991, david song writing and production could be heard all over the radio. one of the songs included mariah’s now classic. “emotions.” co-written with mariah, “emotions” topped the pop, r&b and dance charts. david & mariah forged a musical bond and would go on collaborate on several songs & remixes. david could be seen masterfully playing the piano on mariah carey’s mtv unplugged. 

in a recent pitchfork interview, mariah spoked about david. “He was one of the only people I used to have in the studio when I would sing because I respected him as a singer. He would push me in different areas where he could actually sing it to me and I would be like, “Oh, this is cool. I like that.” If you listen to the song “Emotions,” that was him going, “You can do that. Try this.” Half the time, I would lose my voice afterwards because he would just push me.”

[fun fact: the first time i stepped foot into a gay club was in the summer of 1993 and the songs that was playing as i walked in was the c&c music factory remix of taylor dayne’s "can’t get enough of your love.” i immediately ran to the dance floor and felt a kind of freedom that i had never experienced.]

over the next few years, david continued to be high demand and produced hits for pop icons, whitney houston, aretha franklin, michael jackson and donna summer. sadly, just as donna reached the top spot on the dance chart with c&c written and produced, “melody of love”, david died of complication of spinal meningitis brought on by hiv on january 24, 1995. he was just 32 years old.

even after his death, february proved to still be a magical month for david. in 1996, the number song in america for the entire month of february was the mariah carey and boyz II men duet, “one sweet day.” mariah shared that when she co-wrote the song with boy II men, she had her friend david cole in mind. 

i remember watching mtv when the news of david’s death broke. the realization that fame and talent could not and would not protect the young and talented knocked the wind out of me. even now as an adult, i am still saddened by the loss of such a brilliant artist.

david cole, in his all too brief time on this planet, blessed us with a catalog of music that has and will continue to inspire generations. 

rest well, david. may you forever dance in peace!

check out this spotify playlist featuring the musical legacy of david cole. 

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reggie bullock was one the first person i interviewed for #KikisWithLouie. he generously shared memories of his sister mia and his commitment to make sure that her legacy lives on through his work in advocating for black trans women. 

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chyle, some of my favorite childhood memories are when my mother allowed us to skip school so we could go with her to get her check. back then, you had to go to a bank and stand in line to get your public assistance which at that time was cash and books of food stamps.

my brothers and i would stand by her side in the messy bank - giddy because we knew that after she got her check, we’d get to go to mcdonald’s. for us, the only toys we got were the ones we got in happy meals.

after mcdonald’s, we’d go shopping at value-plus to buy nick naks for the house. my mother was never a decorator but she tried to decorate our house. we’d also stop by the thrift store to buy clothes and jackets. now as an adult, i do the same with my son.

as i got older and dropped out of school, “check day” became a bigger event. the night before every “check day”, my aunt blanca and i would plan out our outfits. this meant that we would wash them by hand and dry them on the electric radiator. in fact, we were on our way to get blanca’s check when i first heard mariah’s “emotions” on the radio for the first time.

it is these memories i hang on to. yes, i am still traumatized by survival out of poverty. that shit hangs on to me every damn day. i fight to hold on to the joy we found in the cracks of that hard living.

today is my mother’s birthday. she would have been 61 years old. she passed 3 years ago. there was no funeral. our family was too fragmented. my brothers and i mourned by ourselves. we still do.

i am still making sense of my life. i am still forgiving myself for punishing my mom for not being what i needed her to be. i share these stories to remind myself that she gave us all that she could and it was enough to get me here. and i am so grateful.

happy birthday, mom.

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Alex was an outgoing person. He was very funny, just very creative. He loved to decorate, he loved to do make-up. He loved to hook me up because I wasn’t very talented at doing hair and make-up and matching clothes. He was a very, very proud gay man. He was known all around the community for just being an artist. They took my brother’s life and all that we have to remember him is his art work and the memories we have of Alex Martinez.

My brother Alex was murdered in January of 2012. The case currently unsolved. He was walking with my nephew to the Chinese store to pick up some dinner when two guys approached him and attempted to take their stuff. And protecting my nephew, my brother Alexander was shot.

There’s video but it’s not clear. We want them to take it somewhere so that they can enhance it and they don’t wanna do that. They’re saying they don’t have the means to do it. What? Does my brother have to be a white straight guy for them to get justice for him? Is it because he is a gay man? Is it because he is Latino? Why is it that they won’t make that extra effort for my brother? I can’t be still until I get justice for my brother.

Roz Pichardo, She, Her, Hers

Philadelphia, Pa

interviewed by: anthony leon

photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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it has been two years since christopher collins left this world. he was 37 years old. he was my first love and for years, my only love. he was an integral part of hiv prevention youth program development in philadelphia.

we met in the mid 1990s. we were a part of a group of black & brown queer & trans youth who were minding themselves. we didn’t have many mentors as most of the adults in our lives were either dying, caring for the dying or traumatized by the impact hiv/aids had on our community.


we were kids building rome with bricks cemented by our commitment to fuckin’ exist without apologies and shame. we bought our first rainbow necklaces together. we imagined a world for us that was yet to be written about in the books we read but we still imagined.

we both worked in hiv non-profit. that shit drained us both of life and spirit. we built programs that we had no access to. we gave the world everything including our relationship.


chris and i would work together again in 2012. we facilitated a weekly youth group for black & brown trans & queer youth. we joked about all that we survived. we cried about how the work & movement sometimes does not love you back.

chris wanted the movement and work to love him back. some of us learn to breathe through straws under the weight of the world that tells us we are not enough, our love is not enough. and some of us choose to fly in a dimension where oxygen is not restricted. chris chose the latter.

chris, the loss of your spirit is felt by those of us who survived hiv prevention of the 1990s. it is felt by those of us who continue to (barely) survive the non-profit industrial complex. your loss is felt by everyone who thought this work would save us.


chris was my first love. he was my friend. he was one of the most important relationships i had in this work. i miss his laugh. i miss him. today, i raise him up. 

rest well, chris.

if you are feeling alone and/struggling right now, remember that lifeline is here for you. call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255)

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