Queer Latinx creators tackle HIV stigma in new podcast series

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday June 30, 2022
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Estevan, left, who uses one name professionally, wrote the "Love in Gravity" podcast in which Adam Faison is one of the actors. Photos: Estevan, courtesy Twitter; Faison, Brett Erickson<br>
Estevan, left, who uses one name professionally, wrote the "Love in Gravity" podcast in which Adam Faison is one of the actors. Photos: Estevan, courtesy Twitter; Faison, Brett Erickson

The new podcast series "Love in Gravity" aimed at addressing HIV stigma within the Latinx and Afro-Latinx communities starts off with a bang. A gay mixed-race male couple picks up a guy at a bar and brings him home for a three-way.

After discussing how they are all negative and on the HIV prevention medication PrEP, the three engage in a sexual hookup depicted audibly. At the start of the 56-minute episode, titled "Elote PrEParado," a warning gives listeners a heads up about the explicit content they are about to hear.

"Oh fuck, use my hole, daddy!" one of the three men lustily begs.

The story then cuts to the trio talking about open relationships, eventually segueing into the couple traveling to the Latino partner's family home in Arizona for a Quinceanera celebration. His white partner lends emotional support as the couple navigates the family dynamics spurred on by confusion at the discovery of their PrEP use.

"For me, it was an opportunity to de-stigmatize PrEP and open up a conversation," said Estevan, a queer Mexican American television show writer who wrote the podcast episode. "I think HIV still disproportionately affects us. There is such shame around PrEP and taking care of your body. I think this will hopefully give someone an example of how to navigate those conversations with a partner and with family."

Born Estevan Quintero, but using only his first name professionally, Estevan told the Bay Area Reporter he has been on PrEP for a number of years now. But it is not a subject often spoken about within the Latinx community, he said.

"Even just the idea of PrEP as an option is not something that is really talked about within our community," said Estevan, who grew up in Phoenix. "PrEP is still seen as a white gay male option. It was a new space for me to navigate personally. It was important for me to say, 'Hey! This is an option.'"

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted last year, just 27% of Black/African American and 31% of Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men who could have benefitted from PrEP used it in 2017, compared to 42% of white gay and bi men.

Meanwhile, roughly two in three Black/African American (62%) or Hispanic/Latino (67%) gay and bisexual men with HIV were virally suppressed in 2019, compared with about three in four (74%) white gay and bisexual men, according to CDC figures. And while new HIV infections declined among white gay and bisexual men from 2010 to 2019, cases remained higher and relatively stable among Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men.

Actor Adam Faison, who is queer and half-Black and half-white, voices the podcast character who hooks up with the married couple. After moving to Los Angeles he started taking PrEP but no longer does now that he is in a relationship, he told the B.A.R. during a joint virtual interview with Estevan. (Due to their working in the entertainment industry, they both declined to state their current ages.)

Actor Robin de Jesús will be part of the cast of a live reading of the script for "Love in Gravity's" fifth episode Tuesday, July 19, at OutFest in Los Angeles. - Courtesy Between the Lines  

Glad for second opinion
His pediatrician in San Diego, who he was still seeing, had steered him away from using it, recalled Faison, warning him PrEP could be harsh on his body. Instead, Faison's family doctor advised him that the best thing for him to do was to use condoms and practice safe sex.

"I am glad I got a second opinion and had community around me," said Faison, who first met Estevan at a friend's party several years ago.

When Estevan reached out to him about the podcast and sent him the script, Faison said he was struck by the authenticity in how Estevan had depicted the various personal relationships and was able to address not just HIV issues but also sexuality, gender identity, and infidelity.

"It was cool to see someone bring to life what I think a lot of queer people in relationships feel like," said Faison, who starred in "Everything's Gonna Be Okay" on Hulu. "We get this heteronormative idea of what relationships should be. Estevan tried to tackle what we feel and how we don't always try to fit in by what society is telling us on how to fit in."

The six-episode audio series, presented by pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare, debuted June 29 with Estevan's episode. The next five episodes will drop weekly on Wednesdays. Harley&Co produced the roughly hourlong podcasts, which were directed by Zhailon Levingston.

"We need HIV prevention and living with HIV to be mainstreamed into our everyday lives and conversations. That won't happen until we start seeing it portrayed regularly and accurately in our entertainment," stated Marc Meachem, ViiV Healthcare's head of U.S. external affairs.

Each podcast episode's original story is the creation of gay, bisexual, and queer Latinx and Afro-Latinx writers. The anthology series features a stellar lineup of actors including Robin de Jesús, Harvey Guillén, Jessica Marie Garcia, Jason Genao, Javier Muñoz, and Wilson Cruz.

"All the episodes stand alone but are woven together thematically," said Estevan, who had never before written for the podcast medium. "Podcasts give actors and characters the space to have these conversations I don't know TV would typically allow. TV tends to cut out a lot of dialogue."

While focused on Latinx characters, the series addresses issues anyone can relate to, said Estevan.

"This is such a great opportunity for anyone really. The shows center queer Latino voices and characters but it is for everyone," he said. "These are stories we asked for and are so hungry for; I hope everyone listens to the podcasts."

When he wrote his episode, Estevan didn't know it would lead off the podcast series. Admitting he feels a bit of pressure with his being the first, at the same time Estevan noted, "it is a big honor." Hopefully, he told the B.A.R., it entices listeners to tune in for the entire series.

"I think my episode is the only one that has a sex scene in it, so come for that and stay for the family drama," said Estevan. "Ultimately, we are excited to do honest, accurate portrayals of Latinx and Afro-Latinx people today."

To subscribe to "Love in Gravity" via ApplePodcasts click here.

It can also be found on Spotify here.

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