Residents of different Stonewall colonies in Leo Herrera’s Fathers.
Image: Leo Herrera

While we’re now able to look back and see, statistically, how the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic devastated the North American queer community, it’s impossible to quantify the impact that lost generation of lives could have had on the world had they lived. Leo Herrera’s The Fathers Project web series imagines a world in which the HIV/AIDS never happened, and lays out a timeline of events detailing what that would mean for us as a society.

What would the modern day queer rights movement look like, if countless activists and community organizers hadn’t been lost to the virus? How would our ideas about sexuality—particularly queer sexuality—be different if we weren’t living in the shadow of an epidemic that played a significant role in stigmatizing it? As relatively grounded as the concepts Fathers touches on are, the whole of its vision has a distinctly sci-fi edge to it because of the sheer magnitude of the questions it’s asking.

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Note: Heads up that Fathers is intended for mature audiences and features a fair amount of nudity.

Fathers’ world is realistic, but its depiction of progressive queer colonies and swift, life-changing public health care initiatives make it feel futuristic and almost fantastical. In 1969, gay rights activist Don Jackson began working on a bold plan to turn Alpine County, California into into a queer haven (commonly referred to as Stonewall Nation), taking over the small town’s local government through a careful process of moving hundreds of queer people to the city over a period of time. Jackson’s plan ultimately failed due to a complicated mix of opposition from Alpine’s established community and uncertainty from within the queer community itself. But Fathers depicts what life would be like had this sort of plan a) worked, and b) become increasingly common.

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Rather than having to deal with HIV/AIDS, Fathers’ queer communities have the opportunity to focus on establishing the first generation of queer colonies modeled after Jackson’s first Stonewall Nation that become thriving metropolitan hubs. The colonies create the kinds of environments where queer people are able to live freely and their proliferation across the country makes it so that they never feel like gay ghettos. Different though the various Stonewalls neighborhoods are in their identities, they all work in concert with one another to become a powerful force in American politics.

As utopian as Fathers’ colonies are, the series also delves into the realistic elements of society that would need to be in place in order to make them possible. The series doesn’t shy away from the realities of queer sexuality; it posits that a world largely free of sex negativity would be one in which sexual public health concerns could be dealt with far more effectively—something that’s a betterment for society as a whole. Wild as it may sound to some, that concept isn’t exactly novel in and of itself, but it becomes radical when Fathers juxtaposes it with frank discussions about queer sexuality, because the subtext is that there’s nothing inherently wrong or shameful about being gay.

An advertisement for Espera, an inhalable prophylactic that prevents STI transmission.
Image: Leo Herrera

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The most radical thing about Fathers is that the things it’s asking us to imagine already exist here in the real world, albeit in drastically different ways because of the way history actually played out. Organizations agitating for queer civil rights, legal protections, and representation in politics have won hard-fought battles to make the world a better place, and will continue to do so. Fathers is a reminder of just how much farther along we could be in an ideal world, but its message is an optimistic one about what’s yet to come.

The first two episodes of Fathers are currently available to stream on Herrera’s website.


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