By Cesar A Reyes
Growing up a gay kid in San Diego you come to look for guidance from the elder community members. One of mine came in the form of Franceska, the Emcee at Bacchus House for their Latino Wednesday nights. Franceska was much more than an entertainer, she promoted HIV testing and safety (it was the early 2000’s) and invited people to her “day job” at San Diego American Indian Health Center where as Franko, he was a counselor, patient advocate and a case worker. For many of us, he was one of the first people you were comfortable enough with to talk about STI’s and how to prevent and treat them. Getting to know him we got to know the passion he has for his culture and roots and his history as a vocal advocate for his community and for those living with HIV/AIDS. To celebrate his amazing 70 years of life we wanted to sit down with him and let him tell you his story in his own words.
Please tell us about yourself. Who you are, where you came from, how did you end up in San Diego?
My name is Franko Ventura Guillen aka Franceska, I was born in Mexico February 16th, 1954. My parents immigrated with the family to the United States of America in 1961 when I was 7 years of age, I was raised in the Northern part of California in Stockton, where I attended Jr. high school, high school, Delta college and University of the Pacific in 1980. During that time the medical community started talking about a new Human Virus called by the Reagan Administration Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), and all of us Activists in the Gay movement became a threat to society, for that I had to leave University, my family and my history behind, because I was raised to be myself and hide my Homosexuality in a closet. That’s how I ended up in San Diego to be close to my Ancestry and my full of life colorful Culture and beautiful people!
How did you become involved in community activism?
I became an activist at the age of 16th, with the blessings of my mom and dad, with the Gay Movement in San Francisco, California. When I arrived at San Diego, my activism focused on my heritage and culture, because there was so much visible discrimination against Latinos in the Gay community, especially against the monolingual community (Spanish speaking only individuals) and the HIV infected population.
Give us some highlights or anecdotes that make you smile?
My strength, my force and my smiles always come over me when the people I led, were and could speak their minds in public and defended and demanded to be treated as intelligent human beings.
What are some accomplishments you are proud of?
Of my many accomplishments I’m most proud of:
Having started “Against all Odds” The Latino Movement in the Gay Community in the early 80’s among great people like Teresa Oyos (a real activist always thinking of others).
Worked to have a Latino Stage added to the Pride Festival.
Having Latino Services at the Center.
Started Latino themed nights at the clubs and still doing my show once a month “Pasion Latina” at Brass Rail.
Helped create Cine Gay (now SOMOS) the LGBTQ+ line up as part of the Latino Film Festival in San Diego.
Being a part of the Pride Festival and March in Tijuana, Mexico among some of the greatest activists there. We also opened the first HIV Hospice in Tijuana in the 80’s and have dedicated almost 40 years to fundraising for HIV services for our infected and affected brothers, sisters and children in both Tijuana and San Diego.
How did Franceska come to be?
Franceska was born out of necessity: three young brothers (who were friends of mine) died going to work in the fields of Stockton, California when I was 18. I was already going to the Gay Ninety’s (the only Gay Club in Stockton.) My friends had no one in Stockton and lived in a little house of one of my relatives, I found a way to have a friend investigate how we could claim the bodies and send them to their Mom in Mexico but it would cost us $4,000. I went to Timmy (the owner of the night club) to ask if I could request donations from the patrons. I will always remember the look on his face and him and saying, “You know miss Franco you are so effeminate, Saturday night the band is not playing, come dressed as a woman and do a drag show for us and whatever money you may need after the show, I’ll give it to you to send your friends to their mom.”
I went home that night and told my mom, dad, brothers sand sisters. My father said to me “you’re a strong homosexual and I see a strong Female Impersonation, your name is Franko your female impersonation should be as strong, your name is Franceska.
Although you retired a few years back, you’re still working, tell us why?
I am still doing volunteer work, because many people need assistance with medical insurance of any kind, government or private.
How can people connect with you?
They can find me on Facebook as Franko Guillen