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Brown & Gay in LA
Colorful array of city activities: food truck, cyclist, vintage car, barber, girl in quinceanera dress; 6th street bridge in the background with purple gradient overlay
(Dan Carino
/
LAist)
Episode 10
10:14
Brown & Gay in LA
Growing up as a gay Filipino man in the 90s and 2000s with immigrant parents, Anthony Ocampo felt confused and alone. Now a professor and sociologist, he wrote a memoir exploring the challenges of discovering oneself in LA during that period. He joins HTLA host, Brian De Los Santos, to talk about what he's learned over the years – and, to give a preview of what's inside his new book: Brown and Gay in LA: The Lives of Immigrant Sons. Guest: Anthony Christian Ocampo, Professor of Sociology, Cal Poly Pomona

Brian De Los Santos 

Just a quick heads up. This episode contains some strong language and depictions of trauma. If you're listening with kids, you might want to sit this one out. (Music plays.) Welcome back to How to LA. I'm your host with the most Brian De Los Angeles. Today, we're going to try something a little bit different. I want to talk to you guys about my friend Anthony Ocampo. Anthony is a big voice for queer people of color in LA. He's a child of immigrants. And that resonated with me because I'm queer. I'm Brown. And I'm undocumented. When I found out that he was writing a book, I want to learn more. The book is titled "Brown and Gay in LA." Sounds kind of like someone-I'm talking about myself. We went to meet up with him in Eagle Rock.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

This is Anthony's childhood home where he's actually hanging out today with his boyfriend Joe and their dog Schmidt.

 

Anthony Ocampo 

I lived in this house since I was six years old. They moved here in '87 when housing in Eagle Rock was actually affordable.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

The house is a cute single story home. Garden, flowers, trees-there is a big open space with chairs, a fireplace.

 

Anthony Ocampo 

Every relative that migrated to the United States from the Philippines-this was their pitstop. There was always a new cousin, or an uncle and aunt, my dad's siblings-that's kind of very immigrantty, right?

 

Brian De Los Santos 

We know LA is the city of immigrants, and Anthony is LA through and through. I know not everyone's gonna identify with the story of a brown gay man in LA. But the way he navigated his queerness really resonated with me. I wanted to ask him about his experience growing up here.

 

Anthony Ocampo 

I mean, I I feel like I grew up like a lot of kids. Mom wants her son to like, marry a nice girl and have a family so they can have grandkids. When I talk to other queer children of immigrants-same story. I remember junior high-high school is the period when folks start to date and hook up. I didn't get on the bandwagon for that. Like, I always think about the situation where you ask a straight boy in junior high, like: "Oh, what do you think of this girl?" It's like, "oh, she's hot." They ask the gay boy and he'd be like: "Oh my God, she's so pretty!" (Laughter.) "She's beautiful. I love her hair." But, I didn't know what gay was because this was the 80's and 90's. So the only representation of gay folks was pretty much the AIDS crisis. All that I saw on TV was images of like white gay men. There was queer gay characters in Filipino TV shows that my parents were watching, or my grandma would watch, but almost always they were caricatures. They couldn't live their own lives; they were just there for-kind of like accessories. I think that played a role in my coming of age in the sense that I literally could not find the words to explain what was happening to me. I remember when I got to college. There I had no shortage of gay friends-gay women, gay men. But overwhelmingly, when you go into like the LGBT Center, the Pride Center, all I saw were white gay folks. I looked at those friends and I thought, well, I don't see myself in them. So perhaps I'm not gay. The first time it all clicked, I met a friend who was openly gay, Mexican-American, son of immigrants. We went to Circus Disco. This massive club with several dance floors. One room would be playing Spanish rock like Mana. (A mix of music mentioned plays underneath.) Another room would have hip hop, and other would be like pop music-like Britney, Katy Perry. These men look like the men that I grew up with. And here they were, like grinding up on each other, making out and embracing, and holding hands and it was just like a mindfuck. That was a time when being gay wasn't as accepted in the mainstream. We didn't really have apps like Grindr or Scruff or Tinder to easily meet men around your same location. You had to go to the clubs. We knew that the world hated us. But in this space, we could be fully ourselves. They were such iconic spaces for multiple generations of gay men of color. That's where they found community. That's where they found friends. That's where they learned about sexual health. And you can play with identities-queen out from the moment you get out of the car. (Club music continues to play.) It almost felt that spiritual to be there. Some of the people I interviewed basically described going to Circus like going to church.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

I think that's something that I identify with so much, you know, these spaces that made you feel safe, and made you feel seen. And some of these spaces were taken away. West Hollywood's makeup is different. As people have moved into LA in Southern California, the makeup of our population is different. Where are we at now with these spaces for us-communities of color who are queer?

 

Anthony Ocampo 

Those spaces seem like they're far and few between-now. What was so important about clubs like Circus, it was part of everyone's coming of age experience was a place to dance, it was a place to be desired, it was a place to desire. That's where you met your first set of friends, your first boyfriend, that's where you dance when you had your first breakup. It almost feels like oh, if you can hit up someone on your phone and meet up locally, then there's not so much of an urgent need to go to the clubs.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Anthony's talking about the end of an era. There were spaces that cater to queer people of color in LA. But as rents went up, and dating apps like Grindr became more popular, these places started to disappear. Right in the middle of that transition, and 2016 Pulse happened.

 

Anthony Ocampo 

I was scheduled to give a graduation speech that day at UCLA. And you know, graduation speeches are supposed to be like hopeful- "and go and live out your lives and dreams!" And then here was this terrible, terrible experience that happened where all these young folks lives are essentially cut off and destroyed. And it just destroyed me to know that in the one place you finally-after all these years of homophobia, and people rejecting you and treating you like shit, and calling you faggot. There's this one space where you could just BE, and that was ripped away in an instant by a mass shooting. 49 people died that night. I'm all the way in LA, 1000's of miles away from Pulse and that incident reverberated for me too.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

I actually was still awake when the newsletter started coming in. I was working in at the LA Times at that that moment. I had my apps on-notifications on-and I was getting home, you know, it was Pride weekend so the boys were coming over to just do a nightcap. And then I started to read and.. I get emotional because I saw the families, and I saw like two boyfriends who wanted to get married to each other, you know, and have family; and I'm like, dude, that's the story of me and my friends. (Soft melancholic piano music plays.) Pulse is the kind of place I would have loved to go. Those types of spaces are sacred to our community. But you know what, we make those spaces. It's not just a building. And I feel like that's experience of being brown and gay in LA. It's creating space. And Anthony is a type of person who is always trying to create space for other people. That's what he does in academia, that's what he does at his parents house hosting his friends. And he does that with this book. I asked him, so what did you learn from the people that you talk to?

 

Anthony Ocampo 

Let me just start with the personal. Full stop. I just I just needed to hear those stories, because I had no blueprint for myself-for how to navigate what it's like to be a gay son of immigrants. These men may be under the same category, but there's a plethora of different experiences. I wanted to write a book that reminded people of what these young men experienced. Not that I wanted to harp on the trauma, but I wanted folks to remember that even if we have same sex marriage, or whatever, you know, Love, Victor on TV (laughter). Which I love, by the way. It doesn't erase the fact that gay folks experience trauma. Some of the folks I interviewed said, when they came out of the closet; their parent drove them to Mexico, dropped them off in their hometown, took away their passport-so they couldn't come back, so that they could get straightened out. I wanted to write about that stuff in a way that would honor the fact that those experiences were real, despite the fact that things are quote unquote-“getting better."

 

Brian De Los Santos 

(How to LA theme music plays.) Anthony's book, "Brown and Gay in LA" came out September 19. This is How to LA from LAist studios. I'm Brian De Los Santos. Catch us Tuesdays through Thursdays wherever you get your podcasts, and don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter at LAist.com/HowtoLA. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. That's it for today y'all. I'll catch y'all soon.