In the short play “The Baby Cries,” a young gay male couple worries about how their parents will react when they meet their adopted newborn. Soon the audience finds out that the real issue is not having two dads, but rather having two extremely loving but meddling and overbearing Latino grandparents.
It’s author Mario J. Novoa’s comedic take on a serious issue for the Latino community: the acceptance of same-sex couples and their children. And it’s one of 11 short works that make up the second annual Brown & Out Theater Festival, currently playing at Boyle Heights’ CASA 0101 Theater.
The festival is the brainchild of 26-year-old playwright and producer Miguel García, who found a lack of Latino gay characters and situations in contemporary theater.
“I really wanted to be a writer and read many plays by Latinos that dealt with great stories, but I really wanted to write my own stories,” García said. “There wasn’t enough Latino theater that dealt with the gay perspective, and as a writer and artist I wanted to contribute to that genre.”
His first step after graduating from Georgetown University and returning home to El Monte was to sign up for writing classes with CASA 0101 founder Josefina López.
“She motivated me and inspired me to design a short play festival that evolved into Brown & Out, an annual festival that celebrated the Latino LGTBQ experience,” García said. “What I love about the show is that it’s a mix of comedy and drama and highlights a wide range of what it is to be Latino and LGBTQ.”
Today, a special performance of the festival marks National Coming Out Day, a civil awareness day established in 1988.
“I think it’s very important that we’re celebrating National Coming Out Day in Boyle Heights, a predominantly Latino low-income neighborhood that’s celebrating what it is to be brown, out and proud,” García said. “You’re proud to be Latino and proud to be gay and the two things are not in conflict.”
The event will benefit the Latino Equality Alliance, a community grassroots nonprofit organization formed after Prop 8 passed, banning gay marriage in California.
“We realized that the work in our community needed to be done to increase support for LGBTQ people and issues,” LEA co-chair Ari Gutiérrez said. “We started out working for marriage equality, because that’s what Prop 8 was about, but there are so many more issues around family acceptance that we have to address before anybody can support marriage equality.”
Following tonight’s performance, LEA members will participate in a Q&A session with cast members, authors and directors to discuss the group’s LGBTQ education initiative in Boyle Heights. The initiative is part of a larger Building Healthy Communities project funded by the California Endowment ”” which also funds Boyle Heights Beat ”” and aims to bring the community together at an LGBTQ issues forum in early 2013.
Gutiérrez said the LEA has found several issues that are common to both the LGBTQ and Latino communities.
“One of those issues is immigration reform,” she said. “For sex-same couples, that’s important. Even if we had the right to marry, we still wouldn’t have the federal right to sponsor (a partner). Family separation, that’s another shared value, for people to understand that (through immigration law enforcement) they get separated from families, and we, because of homophobia, get separated from our families.”
García found out about the Boyle Heights LGBT initiative while working with one of the LEA’s 30-plus allied community groups. He was teaching writing to a small group of homeless Latino gay youth at Jóvenes Inc., a Boyle Heights shelter, when he decided to incorporate their experiences into Brown & Out. The result is “Forever Young,” the closing play inspired by their writings on such issues as homelessness and teen suicide.
“I think that the play is presenting some very serious issues in a way that honors our culture, through art,” Gutiérrez said. “And because it’s through art and maybe comedy, we are able to communicate some of that pain in a way that people can understand it better.”
Even with a range of plots and characters, the 11 plays all come back to the theme of acceptance.
“In the Latino community, it’s still taboo to be gay,” García said. “It’s important to show that it’s OK, that you’re perfect the way you are.”
That was not an easy lesson for García to learn. His own coming out to his conservative immigrant parents was a slow, sometimes painful process.
“The great thing is I can honestly say that my mom and dad accept who I am and are happy for me,” he said. “At the end of the day, they just care that their kid is living the happy life he deserves.
“And the great thing is, my mom is coming to Brown & Out on the last day.”
Brown & Out runs through Oct. 21 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. at the new CASA 0101 Theater, 2102 E. First St. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $17 for seniors and $15 for students and Boyle Heights residents.