Kid Congo Powers explained it best when he said punk was “very gay in the beginning.” At that time, the genre was exceptionally inclusive to all kinds of people. Popular culture, like with most histories, tends to whitewash all that — which further perpetuates the othering of some of the coolest punks to ever exist.
Now, many punk bands with LGBTQ+ members and lyrics tackling sexuality and gender adopt the queercore descriptor. That genre has recently started to get its due prominence, but its origins actually date back decades: It began as a response to the mid-80s boom of macho white guy bands pushing everyone who wasn’t that out of hardcore punk, and also offered asylum for those who didn’t identify with the broader gay culture of the time either. Propelled by Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones’ DIY zine J.D.s, and a steady flow of upstart bands and fans, queercore has lately begun to outgrow the underground.
Visibility is important, and brand new bands carrying the queercore torch is great. But punk, by nature, isn’t the kind of subculture that forgets where it came from. No matter how big punk or its subgenres get, the people who spearheaded the first and every subsequent wave of the movement will be forever exalted for their work – including these preeminent queer Latinx punk pioneers.
Martin Sorrondeguy of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist
Hardcore punk turned almost exclusively white, male, and straight in the mid-80s, and Chicago band Los Crudos is a reason it didn’t stay that way. The all-Latino lineup took shape in 1991 with Uruguayan-born Martin Sorrondeguy fronting; together, they tackled racism, xenophobia, economic inequality, and imperialism. While many consider Sorrondeguy’s later band, Limp Wrist, as the marker for his coming out in punk, he’s clarified in interviews the he broached the topic of queerness in Los Crudos songs, too. He’s widely heralded now for having cleared those paths, as well as for his label borne of Los Crudos, Lengua Armada, and for his longstanding efforts as a queer activist. He’s also a pretty incredible photographer.
Gerardo Velazquez and Michael Ochoa of Nervous Gender
Imagine the Screamers, but noisier and far more antagonistic: That’s Nervous Gender. The proto-industrial synth-punk group started in 1978 with Gerardo Velazquez and Michael Ochoa, two gay Chicanos, at the helm. They were notorious for their hostile, intimidating performances – sometimes to the point of being booted offstage, even when playing for the anything-goes art-punk crowd. Their confrontational approach to subjects like religious guilt and gayness was unprecedented; they performed The Homily, an anti-Christian opera in 1980. The latter became the inspirational bedrock for the experimental B-side of their only proper LP, Music From Hell, released in 1981 on the venerable subversive imprint Subterranean Records. (Side note: It included a cameo from one of our favorite Chicana punks, Alice Bag.)
When founding member Phranc — now revered as a queercore and riot grrl pioneer — left shortly after, the lineup door didn’t close for a whole decade: In (and out) walked members of the Germs, Screamers, Castration Squad and Wall of Voodoo, among others. The 90s saw Nervous Gender revived as a trio with Ochoa, his friend Joe Zinnata, and Velazquez, who was battling AIDS. He passed in 92 in at the age of 33, and “in typical Gerardo fashion, he did not go gently into that good night.” Ochoa reformed the band in 2006 with Zinnata and founding member Edward Stapleton to play their first show in 16 years, and have since remixed that studio album, compiled more live recordings, and incorporated their former manager, Tammy Fraser, as keyboardist.
Kid Congo Powers
Pleasant Gehman and Kid Congo Powers of The Gun Club. Photo by Theresa Kereakes
The Gun Club co-founder and former player in The Cramps and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (among several other gigs) remains a beloved and revered part of today’s underground rock and punk realm. As Kid Congo and the Monkey Birds, the second-generation Mexican-American has released four albums to date, all of them oozing with bluesy swamp-punk sex appeal. His latest effort, this year’s La Araña Es La Vida, is arguably his most forthcoming in queer and Latinx subject matter — though it’s always been an influence, albeit somewhat nuanced in the past. The 53-year-old is now married and resides in New Haven, Connecticut — when he’s not touring the world, of course.
Jenn Alva and Phanie Diaz of Girl in a Coma and FEA
Jenn Alva (left) and Phanie Diaz (center right) of FEA.
Their best-known band, Girl in a Coma, leaned more on alt-rock traditions, but drummer Phanie Diaz and bassist Jenn Alva’s newly formed side-project, FEA, is molded by bonafide punk rock fury. Alva was out by the time the former group’s debut full-length dropped in 2007; Diaz came out as a lesbian three years later. Along with vocalist Letty Martinez and guitarist Aaron Magana, FEA brazenly brings misogyny, rape culture, xenophobia, and other feminist issues to the foreground for a much deserved riot grrrl-style ripping.
Luis Illades of Pansy Division and The Avengers
Mexican-American punk Luis Illades joined Pansy Division five years after its original formation in 1996 when the uber-poppy punk troupe needed a steady — and gay — drummer. A formative part of the queercore movement, the San Francisco troupe’s songs were often tongue-in-cheek, like “Smells Like Queer Spirit,” their take on the Nirvana hit, and “Homo Christmas.” Still, the group was always decidedly queer, and made an indelible mark in punk for it. They remain one of the few gay acts (if not the only?) to have released works on the now defunct Lookout! Records; in fact, they’re often regarded as the first gay pop-punk band ever.
Illades met Penelope Houston of the iconic 1977 punk outfit The Avengers at their 2003 reunion show, which Pansy Division played; soon after, he signed up as drummer, and is now a permanent member of that band too.