Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly, Canto XVII: You Gotta Give Them Hope


Gentle cabrones:

Today is OC Pride, which means members of Queer Traffic spent last night rearranging my wife’s store to have a LGBTQ dance brunch this morning. I won’t be there, alas; I need to drive to San Diego early to deliver a wedding cake, then rush up to the Pasadena Playhouse to lead a discussion after a staging of Culture Clash’s Bordertown Now (buy tickets!).

Somewhere along the way, I”ll listen to the broadcast of Mexico versus South Korean in their second match for the FIFA World Cup (paging Game Six scene in Good Will Hunting).

And all along, I’ll be thinking of Randy Shilts.

He was a pioneering gay reporter, one of the first out-of-the-closet scribes to work for a major daily. Shilts wrote the essential The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, about the martyred San Francisco politician.

And he was the man most responsible for snapping me out of my homophobia.


First time reading this newsletter? Subscribe here for more merriment! Feedback, thoughts, commentary, rants? Send them to

I’ve told the story of my anti-gay sentiments before in my Orange County: A Personal History. But no one bought the damn thing, so I’ll do a brief recap.

Look up what Harvey Milk had to say about homophobes in OC haha Photo by Daniel Nicoletta – Provided by author, Daniel Nicoletta, CC BY-SA 3.0

Until my junior year, I was a raging homophobe—Catholicism, machismo, and ignorance will do that to you, you know? All the epithets came out of my mouth—and I had never met even an out person.Then I met W.

He was a fellow student at Anaheim High, a year below me. He was proud of who he was—so I and way too many other boys verbally and physically harassed him (I only yelled at him). If W suffered, he never showed it—far from it, he’d come back with smart comebacks that would shut us bullies up.

I remember my best friend Art (who just got married last weekend—congrats!) would always tell me that hating gay people was not only wrong, but stupid—made no sense whatsoever. I would respond with too many Bible verses to remember. Nothing he could say would ever change my mind.

What did change my mind, though, was the film version of Shilts’ And the Band Played On, the wrenching story of how AIDS spread across the United States. We saw it in Mr. Elder’s junior biology class, and my homophobia was turned off forever. Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus style. I became even more enraged at homophobia—including my own—when I read the book.

I didn’t become a full-fledged ally until much later. But I did make it a point to apologize to W for all the abuse I had heaped on him over the years. I can’t remember why, but that didn’t happen until sometime during my senior year. He accepted my apology, although I remember the skepticism in his eyes.

That’s fine. As I wrote in my Orange Countybook, I’ve been trying to atone for my homophobia ever since.


I’m not bringing up all of this because of Pride. I had a completely different newsletter in mind for this week until I finally sat down to write (I always do haha).

We should always tend to our garden Photo by James Gwin, designer; John Hall (1739–1797), engraver – Private Collection of S. Whitehead, Public Domain

But as I saw the Queer Traffic youth set up, I had a flashback to just a couple of hours earlier, when I spoke at the Inland Empire Future Leaders (IEFL) wrapup at Cal State San Bernardino. For the past 34 years, they’ve taken hundreds of 9th and 10th graders (mostly Latino, but also African-Americans and whites, because the IE’s working class has historically been multiculti, dontcha know) to a camp in Idyllwild.They spend a week teaching those kids about their responsibility to create a better world, how to confront their phobias and fears but also their hopes and dreams. I’ve spoken before, but I spoke this time with the spectre of child separations at the border.

I mentioned that to the kids, but I also kept in my why I was invited: to tell them, the youth of cities mocked by the rest of the United States, that they were the generation who’d kick up the IE to the next level. And that’s when I remembered Harvey Milk’s best quote:  “You gotta give them hope.”

He was talking about LGBTQ youth in the 1970s, but I’ve always loved that line because it’s my philosophy in life: You gotta be an optimist in life (I’m actually a cynic, but as I think I’ve said before in this newsletter, that’s nothing more than a hopeless romantic).

You gotta believe that no matter how horrible the situation, the good guys (and girls. And gender-non-comforming folx) will win.

I’m no Pollyanna. And I’m definitely not Panglossian. I take my optimism from Milk. He never lost hope, at a time when it was so easy to do so. (I still want to know what Kevin Starr wrote in his columns back in the day that pissed off Milk and other LGBT folks so much, as reported by Shilts. Kevin Starr! The teddy bear of California history!)

You gotta fight and struggle and sacrifice and not accept the status quo in order for the good life to happen. It’s been amazing to see so many people rise up against the Trump administration’s ghastly border campaign (and yes, Trumpbros: Obummer also stuffed kids into detention facilities—but us on the Left called it out then, yet you refuse to do so right now. Pinche bola de pendejos.)

But right now on Facebook, I’m seeing way too much despair from adults. I saw nothing but hope in the faces of the IEFL kids. I saw nothing but hope in the face of the Queer Traffic crowd. Despair is giving up; hope is the clarion call to FIGHT.

You gotta give them hope. Hope and humor are the two things evil can’t rob from us. Mexico wins today against South Korea—and I hope the fans don’t do that stupid anti-gay chant.


And that’s how you connect San Berdoo, El Tri, Anacrime, and homophobia, locos.

Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:

LISTENING: “Dear Marge,” Stereolab. Preview of a newsletter to come, but it’s legit good electronic music by a group that ended too soon.

READING: “Separated migrant children are headed toward shelters that have a history of abuse and neglect,” Reveal and The Texas Tribune. Of all the reporting on the refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, this one, co-written by my comadre Aura Bogado, was one of the first to tell it from the kid’s side. Gripping, infuriating, well-written, superbly researched—and they’re just getting started on this story.

Gustavo in the News

The Absurdity of Trump Officials Eating at Mexican Restaurants During an Immigration Crisis”: New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner quotes a 2016 quote I gave to Huffington Post instead of my NBC News THINK article from today on the same subject. It’s all good—we’re pals!

Gustavo’s Stories:

“It’s time to deport la migra from California”: My weekly California columnafor the Los Angeles Times argues exactly what the title says! KEY QUOTE: “Our sanctuary state law only solved half the problem. We must do something even more drastic: Deport la migra from California.”

“Let Kirstjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller eat Mexican food. Maybe the way to their hearts is through their stomachs”: My latest for NBC News THINK. Another headline that tells the whole tale. KEY QUOTE: “Mexican food remains the great ambassador for Latino acceptance in the United States. It’s about the last thing left that can humanize Trumpsters — because what human hates Mexican food?

“South Orange County Still Mum on Homeless Sites”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” blasts South County AGAIN for their insouciance on THE issue of the year. Someone should lead a Hooverville onto the Great Park, already!

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Buy me a Paypal taco here. Until next week! And don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres!