As a kid, I remember overhearing my mom, Kathy, talk about her friend Vincent “Chente” Valenzeula (July 22, 1957 – February 11, 1995) who she describes as a “handsome, kind, generous soul — full of life with a great sense of humor.” Although many years have gone by, to this day, her excitement and softness exhibited while reminiscing about Chente are as fresh and charming as ever. I can see the love in her eyes, and hear it in her voice. My mom originally met Chente through friends and shares that he was the first gay man she “really, really knew and really, really liked.” She also describes him as a “hugger” — always greeting her with a warm embrace, adding: “I don’t think I ever saw him mad. Ever.” Some of my mom’s fondest memories with Chente include dancing at “Mona’s”, a discotheque run by his partner. She also endearingly admits that she sometimes wished he was someone she might be able to date.
When she found out Chente became ill, it broke her heart; recalling that he became a very private person and wishing that they would’ve spent more time together. In 2017, I portrayed Mickey Marcus in a production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart at Theatre Rhinoceros. Before the play began, audience members were invited to walk onstage and write the names of loved ones they lost to AIDS on the set’s backdrop. On the evening my mom attended, I just happened to peek in from the wings— something I admittedly never, ever do — at the exact moment my mom was onstage writing Chente’s name on the set. In a way: a powerful “complete circle” moment for her and Chente. As a gay man today, I remain inspired by and grateful for the thousands of gay men before me, like Chente, who lived their lives with a habitual abundance of love, joy, beauty and tenderness —despite being deprived the opportunities and blessings of a more evolved, compassionate and just society. Thank you @theaidsmemorial for continuing to feature loving tributes to all of the beautiful people the world has lost.