The film centers around portraits of these men as they describe their experiences with being in a gang, the realization and acceptance of their sexual orientation, and how they faced a multitude of struggles, including social, personal and cultural challenges. This is a story of their individual journeys.
Through a series of interviews, “Homeboy” aims to provide a voice for a unique intersection of cultures until now previously unheard: contemporary Latino culture, gay culture and the world of gangs. These personal accounts weave together, illuminating both parallels and differences amongst the subjects’ experiences. We explore the transformation that these men have undergone, from membership within a gang — a world that is hyper-masculine and outwardly heterosexual — to the acceptance of being gay and how their lives have evolved. The film addresses internal and external stereotypes associated with the Latino, gay and gang cultures. “Homeboy” has universal appeal as a statement to anyone who has overcome personal struggles. It also serves as a message to youth who might consider joining a gang, a temptation often glamorized in popular contemporary media. We are interviewing twelve to fifteen men of various ages to cull from a wide variety of experience.
How did these young men, sometimes as young as 11 years old, find their way into gangs? What was gang life like for them, socially and emotionally? Did being in a gang represent an idea of “family” that maybe they were missing in their own lives? One subject, Joshue, responded:
I joined a gang because I was pressured to. I come from four generations, prior to me, of being in gangs. [Being in a gang is] all about being manly and being ‘down for your shit,’ as they say. I felt like I had to prove my masculinity to my family. I was about 12 years old at the time.
Each of our subjects discovered same-sex relationships in different ways and at different times in their lives. When did they first recognize their attraction to other men and how did they deal with this attraction, if at all? What were their first same-sex experiences like? Were they turning points in their lives? Marco describes his first experience:
The first time I had sex with another man was on my 21st birthday. I was drunk at a little party and this very attractive guy took me into a room and went down on me. The experience was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was the best ever. When I sobered up, I thought “Hell no, that didn’t happen” and blocked the memory of it out for a year and came out a year afterwards.
Joshue’s experience, however, was somewhat different:
I dated the leader of another gang. When I turned 16, I was no longer in a gang. I had already moved on with my life. I started getting good grades in school and I was focused more on what I wanted out of my life. I went to a party and started talking to this guy. He was 26. We started scamming [kissing] and he gave me his number. We were together for four years. He was shot and killed because he wouldn’t stop gang banging [engaging in gang-related activities]. I learned a lot from him. He encouraged me to keep going to school and not let anyone to interfere with my goals, because when you allow someone to interfere with the plans of your life, then that is when you’re a weak man.
Regarding career choices, we’ll explore what paths these men have chosen and whether their gang-related past has influenced these choices. Some of these men have chosen leadership roles within their profession. Pete is an employee of Bienestar, a community based organization that lends roots-level support to the Latino community, including education, public health and many social groups geared towards gays, HIV prevention and infection and teenage issues. He describes a fraction of what his work involves at Bienestar:
I’m very involved in the gay Latino community in the work that I do. Part of what I do is helping ex-gang members look for their identity in the community if they’re feeling [that they might be gay] — helping them feel comfortable with the coming out process. If someone is in the gangs and they have these gay inclinations of being with another man, it’s tough to come out.
Many of these men have weathered the often-difficult process of accepting their sexual orientation and “coming out” to their families and friends, a few of whom were members of the same gang. How did they react and how did their relationships change, if at all? Did being gay within the Latino culture influence how their families and friends reacted? Pete recalls when he first came out to his family:
I remember that when I came out to my family, we were cutting nopales (cactus). I explained that I did not want to be a woman, didn’t want to turn into a woman, because that was my mother’s first fear. My dad was the first one to say something. He said, “Mijo, it doesn’t matter. You’re still blood. You’re still my son. It’s okay. We’ll be here for you.” My mom said that she kind of suspected something, but that she was waiting for me to say something first.
Interviews with siblings, friends, parents, ex-wives /ex-girlfriends and boyfriends of these men will seek to reveal attitudes regarding both their sexuality as well as their experience with gangs. We’d also like to interview heterosexual gang members to capture their perspective on gay men within gangs.
Rival territorial warfare and the underground trade of drugs and guns often characterize gang life today. Most of the men interviewed experienced the violent deaths of fellow gang members — close friends and relatives alike — and explained that this was a contributing factor for wanting to end their ties with gangs. Was being gay a reason for any of them to leave their gangs? Were there other issues involved? Joe recalls his reasons for leaving gang life behind:
I left the gang because my cousin got shot in the gangs when he was 16 years old. It’s not worth being in a gang. I left the gang because I didn’t want my grandmother to lose another grandson. Out of respect for my grandparents, I got out of gangs. And I didn’t want my kids to see me in a gang anymore. I wasn’t jumped out. My homies respected me for getting out.
Several of these men experienced life in prison. In addition to speaking to our subjects about their experiences in jail (day to day life, crimes they committed, negotiations of sexuality, etc.), we intend to interview at least one gay subject who is currently incarcerated.
To balance these very personal portraits, we will interview Luis J. Rodriquez, respected Chicano author who wrote the internationally best-selling memoir, Always Running: Mi Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. , a work that several of our men have read that influenced them deeply. We will also interview Léon Bing, author of Do or Die , a widely acclaimed study of gangs in South Central Los Angeles, as well as photographer/ photojournalist Joseph Rodriquez who documented East Los Angeles gang life in his book, Eastside Stories . (Sito ufficiale del film)