The Gran Varones: Through Photos and Stories, Latino Queer Men Share Their Lives

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The Gran Varones is a storytelling project founded by Louie Ortiz-Fonseca and Anthony Leon, two openly gay Latino men living in Philadelphia. Through video and photography, Latino Gay and Latinx Queer men tell the story of what its like to be Latino, Gay, Queer and male living in the city.

The project is named after and inspired by a salsa song, El Gran Varón," by Willie Colón, which tells the story of a father and child. The father is the "gran varón" of the family -- the patriarch. He wants his son to be the same, but the son, who is is gay, presents as female. The father rejects his child. Later, when he regrest how he abandoned his child, he tries to make amends but finds out his child died alone from complications of AIDS.

TheBody.com asked the project to share their members' stories showing the impact of HIV in their lives and communities.


Louie Ortiz-Fonseca

I never heard [El Gran Varon] and I was blown away that I never heard the song in the context of AIDS history; in terms of media and art. But also, I never heard of it in terms of Latino history and Queer history. I was so bewildered but not surprised that a Latino salsa song that spoke to issues that were so taboo in 1988, never came up in terms of history. So I decided that I would do a project highlighting the stories of Queer and gay Latino men in Philadelphia and call it the Gran Varones, because I know when we come out we are shifting family norms, because we will likely not get married to a woman and have kids in the very traditional ways our families expect us to.


Marco Benjamin

I firmly believe in my life time we will see an HIV free generation and always remember that together and only together we will win the war on HIV/AIDS." Diagnosed in 2008, I immediately called my mother and said "Mami, I'm going to ruin your day." She reacted by saying, "I thought you were going to tell me you were in jail. 'Mi'jo, you are not the first and you are not going to be the last (to have HIV), Then she made sure I went off to the doctor to see about treatment."


Ricky Melendez

I tested positive on this day 20 years ago. I remember feeling scared and alone. It was a trans Latina friend of mine who held me together. Now it is my mission in life to do that for other varones who have just been diagnosed. Our stories and existence alone ends HIV stigma. We have power chyle!


Adrian Castellanos

AIDS is still a very real thing. I want you to remember that. Queer Latinx people often pass away within the first year of diagnoses because we waited too long before getting tested. Because homphobia won't allow us to talk about our sex. Because transphobia makes us targets of systemic and interpersonal violence. Because racism puts us at a level of disadvantage that prevents us from seeking medical attention."


Jorian Veintidos

I moved back from Orlando because I was diagnosed with HIV, I tried doing it on my own and I just couldn't do it mentally, physically and emotionally. I just had no stability, that comfort to have somebody there. So I ended up moving back to Philly to be with my mom, my father, my family. They were my support system. They were the ones who took care of me. There were the ones who made sure I was okay with everything. I didn't have that in Florida because I was on my own. I went to work and came home to myself. Yeah, I had friends. They knew but they did not understand; that was brand new to them. And they tried their best to support me but they just couldn't grasp the idea of why I had HIV.

When I was first diagnosed, I wanted my parents to be the first to know. I called my mom. You could tell that she had a sense of worry. She just said "everything we be ok. We're going to get through this together. From a mother to a son, I trusted her and I believed her and I sit here today.


Jose DeMarco

We are silent, and what HIV history has taught us over that last 3 decades is SILENCE = DEATH. When we stop being silent and demand what we need we will stop being infected, and dying.

When Governor Wolf was candidate Wolf he said he would make an announcement to END AIDS in Pa by 2020. He said that to my face and shook my hand. No he cannot end AIDS but it is possible to dramatically lower infection rates. Easy access to HIV meds and access to Prep to those at high risk. Especially young Latino and black MSM and trans folks. His office will not return phone calls or requests for a meeting. Just like former Gov. Tom Corbett, he said he would use Medicaid dollars to house homeless people with chronic illnesses. People with AIDS are still dying in the street. Especially Kensington. How long do we wait? How many new infections? How many more die homeless with AIDS?


Richie LaBoy

"I grew up in the Ballroom community. It was my family and I watched as HIV took many of them away from me. It fuels my passion. I owe it to my community to make sure that they are reached -- with dignity and affirmation."

Richie has worked for various non-profit organizations since 2002. He has worked deeply with the Ballroom Community in Philadelphia on many social and sexual health issues including; homelessness, HIV/AIDS awareness, mental health treatment, substance abuse rehabilitation, fighting poverty and HIV stigma. He is legendary on both and off of the runway!

Deemed legendary in 2009, Richard continues to be make in the impact in the ballroom scene as part of the House of Miyake-Mugler. He is also working as a Clinical Research Assistant at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where he works on a research project to determine if a culturally-tailored health promotion intervention will reduce health risk behaviors of young men who have sex with men within the Ballroom community in Philadelphia.


Anthony Leon

"Because of Gran Varones, people disclose to me and reach out for support in navigating care and treatment services."

Anthony moved to Philadelphia in 2013 and immediately began working and mentoring Latino and Black gay and trans* youth. For two years he served as coordinator of Mazzoni Center's #A1PHA Project, one of Philadelphia's only prevention project that intentionally and culturally works with young Latino gay men.

He is also the co-creator of the Gran Varones Project and has leveraged that role to unapologetically advocate varones who continue to be marginalized by racism, poverty, homophobia and HIV Stigma.