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

Sounds perfect Wahhhh, I don’t wanna
resurrections are real.
to all of the varones who once lied on hospital beds with a sinking t-cell count counting the minutes until you could hold down down your food.
to all of the varones who avoided looking into mirrors because the sunken face...

resurrections are real.

to all of the varones who once lied on hospital beds with a sinking t-cell count counting the minutes until you could hold down down your food.

to all of the varones who avoided looking into mirrors because the sunken face reflection did not reflect the beauty you behold.

to all of the varones who pieced themselves back together piece by piece after the violence of stigma left them broken and beat. to all the varones who survive life by surviving one night at a muthafuggin’ time.

we salute you.

we praise you.

because even AIDS, stigma, homophobia, racism, white supremacy, and oppression can’t keep us from rising. and when we become ancestors, we will continue rise in the voices of those who speak our names without shame.

so keep rising varones because resurrections are real.

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“When I think of my mom, I think of her big smile. I was adopted by my aunt but i know I have my mother’s spirit with me. She passed when I was about 8 years old from HIV/AIDS. I took it really hard. I don’t know, it’s like when they first tell you,...

“When I think of my mom, I think of her big smile. I was adopted by my aunt but i know I have my mother’s spirit with me. She passed when I was about 8 years old from HIV/AIDS. I took it really hard. I don’t know, it’s like when they first tell you, I really didn’t comprehend it until about a couple of hours later and my brain just snapped. And I felt like everything was just done. Being 8 years old and only knowing your mother and not your father, only knowing certain people in your family and the only thing you’re left with is people that you’re not really that close to.

I think my mother would actually be proud of the fact that I can be who i am by myself. Like, I didn’t need anyone there by my side. I have always been there for myself. So I think she would be really proud that I can do this on my own. I don’t need anybody on my shoulder telling me "you can do this.” because she is there telling me every day that I walk, “You can take the next step.” Ya know, I was born myself and I don’t need anybody to be there to help me.

I just wish she could be here. It’s hard. It’s hard just being here without her. But it makes me smile to know she would be proud of me and proud that I did it.“

Giovanni Martinez-Cruz, Philadelphia

Interviewed by Anthony Leon & Photographed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca

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Anthony: Where in Philly did you grow up?
Angel: I grew up all over the place. Originally I grew up in the Fairmount section. But then around 9 years old, my mom moved to the Northeast. So we lived near the Franklin mills mall for a while. Then I...

Anthony: Where in Philly did you grow up?

Angel: I grew up all over the place. Originally I grew up in the Fairmount section. But then around 9 years old, my mom moved to the Northeast. So we lived near the Franklin mills mall for a while. Then I lived in Orlando for three years between ‘04 and ‘07. Then in ‘07 I moved back to Philadelphia on my own because I kinda like hated it here. Things just weren’t working out for me. When I moved back to Philly, that is when I felt like I became an adult. I was on my own. I was doing my own thing. I finally got my own place. I felt independent. Philly is where I actually came “out”. Because for a while I was hiding who I was. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to be the way I am. Especially growing up in a church setting. So for a while I hated myself. I was just very depressed. But finally I decided to start accepting myself, when I finally realized that I am not going to change…that’s when I became my own person. That’s how I became who I am today. Yes, Philadelphia is home but it also has a special place in my heart because the community accepted me for who I am. I never felt that kind of acceptance before. So, yes Philadelphia isn’t perfect. There are issues within the community but at the same time, I am grateful for the people whom I met and the experiences that I had there because it’s molded me into what I have become today. So hopefully I am not terrible person. [LoL]

Anthony: How do you like here in Orlando the second time around?

Angel: Second time around, not so bad. I came to this city feeling very optimistic about the possibilities. I have a new attitude about what to expect when coming to Orlando. Because my first experience in Orlando wasn’t great, which is why I left. But I am a different person than I was in 2007. When I lived here I wasn’t “out”. I worked. I went home. I would play videos games and that was pretty much my life. So coming here this time around, I started off by making friends. There was one friend who I stayed in communication with, Jeff, who was with me that night at Pulse. So I reached out to him and we kinda picked up where things left off. So he showed me around downtown, took me to some clubs and introduced me to some of his friends. I was determined to enjoy the experience of living in Orlando this time around. I like Orlando. Even with everything that has happened. I like Orlando.

Anthony: I recently had a working lunch with someone from Melbourne, Australia and they showed me pictures of a massive vigil they had for Pulse. There were like 200,000 people there. How does that feel to get that kind of support from the world?

Angel: It’s amazing. On Facebook and Instagram, I have received messages from people from all over. People from Spain, Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, so it’s just incredible the amount of support that I have seen from around the world. Of course, within the United States, I have received messages from people from everywhere; the Midwest, the west coast, from home. You know, it’s been amazing. I’m hoping that with all the attention this event has caused, hopefully people will start to think about their actions, think about what is it that they say against the community, think about how they treat people within our community. Now people understand that we more visual now, people are more aware but it doesn’t change he fact that there are people who hate us for who we are and like that night, want to attack us for being who we are. So I am hopeful that with all the support out there will result in positive change.

Anthony: Do you regret moving to Orlando?

Angel: Believe it or not, no. Even after what happened, I don’t regret moving to Orlando. I am not one of those to say “Everything happens for a reason.” Because I don’t think everything happens for a reason. I do believe that some things happen for a reason. What happened at Pulse, I don’t necessarily think there was any good reason for that to happen, I really don’t. But the fact is that it did happen and as result, I am different person today than who I was on June 11th. So I have to try to make the best of my life going forward.

Angel Santiago Jr., Orlando

Interviewed by: Anthony Leon

Photographed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca

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My mother began smoking crack in the summer of 1986. At that time, it was widely known as “crack rock.” I was 9 years old and I already had mastered the art of secrecy. I didn’t call it art or survival; it was just life under the “rock.” I learned many things that summer that would forever change me.

I learned to check the spoons for burn residue before using them. I taught my brothers to do the same. I learned to hide my single speaker radio before going to school. I taught my brothers to do the same. I learned to play in the dark when the electricity was cut off. I learned that people were more than comfortable calling my mother “crack head” in front of our young eyes and ears. I learned to grow numb and I taught my brothers to do the same.

The greatest lesson I learned was not to be ashamed of my mother. Trust me when I say that this was no easy task during a time when life was polarized by dichotomies of “clean” or “dirty,” “crack head” or human.

These lessons sustained our sanity. These lessons fortified me, along with millions of black and brown families in the 1980s and ‘90s, tried to survive life under the “rock.”

Being the oldest child, I was charged with ensuring that my brothers were fed and taken care of. While I resented the responsibility, it provided me a kind of access to my mother that my brothers didn’t have. After coming down from her high, she would wake me from my sleep to play board games with her at 2 a.m. She would tell me about how AIDS had stolen her friends and how bad she missed them. She would tell me that I was the “good” one and it was my responsibility to keep my younger brother Nicholas out of trouble. We talked about pretty much everything – except life under the “rock.”

It was difficult for anyone in my neighborhood to call someone else’s mother a “crack head” without quickly being reminded that their mother too was a “crack head.” So, the insults had to be more specific; hairs had to be split: “Well at least my mother didn’t sell the TV.” “Well at least we have food in the house.”

My brothers and I were lucky in this sense. Our mother had done neither and so we found solace in that. I believe that this alone helped us to survive with whatever dignity we had left as I watched the will to live disappear from the eyes of other kids living in and being surrounded by crack addiction.

As noted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than one thousand stories about crack appeared in the press in 1986, with NBC reporting over 400 reports on the crack “epidemic” alone. The media coverage was instrumental in shaping the nation’s perception of those who struggled with and/or were directly impacted by crack addiction. This perception has since been inherited by a new generation of HIV advocates and activists, who only associate the Presidency of Ronald Reagan with his failed response to AIDS. But those who survived the Reagan years also associate that time with the government’s swift and violent response to crack that stole the lives and promise of many, deliberately destroying black and brown families.

Thirty years later, the conversation about addiction has shifted dramatically. The same government that demonized, dehumanized and then criminalized people like my mother now urges us all to remember that people struggling with addiction have a disease and require love, patience and treatment. This reminder comes just as the face of addiction is now that of white affluent youth struggling with heroin addiction. This compassion, while critical and necessary, was not made available to black and brown communities that struggled with the presence of crack. I will venture to say that this approach is still NOT available to individuals who still struggle in the shadows of a crack addiction.

Yes, it is important that we evolve as a society and it is equally important that we make amends with ourselves for allowing this to happen on our watch. Even more importantly, we cannot validate our evolution without a true account of what happened, who it happened to and why it happened in the first place.

I have come a long way from the small room I shared with my mother and brothers. I no longer have to check spoons for burn residue but I no longer have family to bear witness to the atrocities we survived.

My mother struggled with addiction until her death last June. My brother Nicholas was murdered in 2001. I sometimes struggle with survivor’s guilt. This is not uncommon for those who have survived war. Every day, I am learning to reconcile my survival with the sacrifices my mother and brother made for me to live life out from under the “rock.”

Atonement is often the last act of any complete apology. As a nation, how do we atone for the heinous behavior of the government during the Reagan years? It’s simple: We don’t ignore the heroes of my generation. Instead, we honor the legacies of my mother and every mother who provided light in darkest days of the war raged on our families. We memorialize them like we would the heroes who were lost in battle.

Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca is an Afro-Boricua artist born and raised in Philadelphia. Louie understands firsthand the impact of intersecting oppressions of racism, homophobia, poverty, and AIDS-phobia. These experiences inspire his commitment to document the lives and oral history of Latino gay and queer men through his project, “The Gran Varones.” Louie is also the 2015 winner of the Hispanic Choice Awards Creative Artist of the Year.

Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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No one spoke of the beautiful boys
But you did while others kindly whispered
Ugly words that made me shiver
And unkindly delivered my esteem hung on a branch.
I grew deaf to beautiful words
Because I believed that they were lies
The lids on my eyes remained closed
Because I wanted no one to know
Just how often I wanted to die.

No one ever speaks of the beautiful boys,
Ones that move as fancy unfolds
And a graceful stroll
On blood stained concrete,
The boys that made flowers grow
Even in December.
But you remembered our beautiful traits
When the beautiful world just couldn’t wait
To label us the “the tainted ones”
Who painted suns
On bedroom walls to light the nights
When our beautiful bodies were used
For a monster’s delight.
No one teaches beautiful boys
How to fight,
So we never spoke of molestation
But you did.
You looked me in my beautiful eyes and stayed
And said “I believe you. We will be okay”
Reminded me that other boys who understand
The violation of human hands.

I used to let these secrets mold the man
That got scared whenever the lights were dimmed
I smoked the beautiful green earth to forget about him
But you knew and you exhaled
You knew in detail the rhythmic dance
Of feeling ugly, dumb and fat
But you held my body and not for pleasure
And I felt the beauty of peace forever,
You made it better
Because you cried when I cried
The monster beneath my bed finally died
You took my beautiful hands
And we walked across the beautiful sky
Of mercy bound
And our feet never touched the ground
We floated and I noted the clouds we touched
As we roamed
I didn’t realize just how close I was to home
And the beautiful sights I could behold
No one told the beautiful boys that they were
But you did.
You still do.
You still say “I believe you.”
I know of beautiful truths
And beautiful boys because of you
You are the proof because you give
A space and place where the beautiful boy
Can go to live
And we thank you.

a few days ago, i posted this picture. the response i have received has not just been amazingly supportive but it has helped make the little boy inside of me who still struggles with his body in the dark, feel heard.

since then, i have received tons of messages from other men sharing their stories and experiences with sexual abuse. words cannot described how humbled i am that strangers from all over trusted me enough to share something that, for some, requires every bit of courage our bodies can conjure up.

this poem is for us. for those of us who told. and for those of us who didn’t. i believe you.

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