Apr 21, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LAFC fans in the 3252 section holds scarves in the first half against the Seattle Sounders at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC defeated the Sounders 4-1. | Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Josue “Chiquilin” Villanueva went to bed the night of June 24, he thought he had put the issue behind him.

Hours earlier he had been playing in a Call Of Duty tournament organized for LAFC fans and hosted by The 3252, the preeminent group of Los Angeles Football Club super-supporters. After a loss in the video game to a rival supporter group, Chiquilin had called his opponent a “fa**ot” and a “bi**h,” among other names.

After calming down and realizing he’d gone too far with his language, he apologized to everyone in earshot. He thought that had handled it.

He was mistaken.

Someone had recorded much of the back-and-forth, and the next morning an anonymous Twitter account popped up, posted audio of part of the exchange, and made sure people across the LAFC fanbase and The 3252 knew about it.

In a matter of hours, Chiquilin’s life turned upside down. His employer called a meeting with him after messages from the community demanded his firing. Some fans wanted him banned from future matches of his beloved LAFC. His name was being equated with words like “hate” and “bigot.”

“It was one of the lowest points of my life.”

Feeling his public and private personae were of laughing and fun, he saw the perception of who he was suddenly completely mismatched with who he thought he was. People were coming for him. He was going to pay a price.

In a recent interview with Outsports, Chiquilin conveyed feeling lost in those first hours and days, with no idea what to do.

“It was one of the lowest points of my life.”

Understanding the power of gay slurs

At first Chiquilin was pissed. He knew he had said something he shouldn’t have, but what appeared to him to be overreaction by others seemed completely out of step with the level of the crime.

One of the reactions that caught his eye was a statement and tweet from Pride Republic, the LAFC support group formed by LGBTQ fans. The group’s statement equated Chiquilin with “those who use hate and violence to tear us down.” If that was the sudden perception of him as a person, he clearly didn’t understand what was going on.

So he reached out to them.

Pride Republic president Paul Ruiz was happy to have the conversation, though he realized very quickly it wasn’t going to be easy.

“When I first talked to him he really wasn’t getting it,” Ruiz said. “He talked about shit-talking being part of the Call of Duty culture and how he was raised. And he wasn’t quite understanding how the language is hurtful.”

About 30 minutes into the conversation, Ruiz compared a gay person hearing “fa**ot” to a Black person hearing the N-word. That seemed to get through. While he had known the word wasn’t a nice word, he truly didn’t realize the origins of it, or how hurtful it was to so many in the LGBTQ community

“I never imagined that people would think I’m against the community,” Chiquilin said. “When Paul really explained how the community feels about the word that I used, I immediately wanted to make it right.”

Chiquilin’s journey to learning and redemption has been a winding road this summer.

Dealing with the calls for his firing wasn’t easy. There were moments of concern that this one misstep could send him packing, but a long history with his employer has helped him keep his job.

He’s also stepped down as a director of The 3252, a position he earned just last year. As he embarks on this educational journey, he didn’t want this incident to taint the larger LAFC fan group that has publicly stood against the use of homophobic slurs.

“What I said isn’t what The 3252 is,” Chiquilin said.

Leadership at The 3252 agrees.

The 3252 leading the charge against gay slurs

Mauricio Fascio, vice-president of The 3252, understands the casual way so many use homophobic slurs. He’s worked for years to educate his family in Mexico, as well as friends and family here in Southern California, about the problems with the “puto” chant. “Puto” is a homophobic word designed to demean men by equating them to male prostitutes.

It’s personal for Fascio. One of his uncles is gay, and his uncle has described to Fascio the impact hearing that chant has on him.

Explaining this to his family, steeped in Mexican supporter culture that has for years embraced the chanting of gay slurs, has been difficult.

“It can’t just be a cosmetic message,” Mauricio Fascio said. “It has to be consistent, and there has to be follow up. That’s how we learn. That’s how restorative justice works. We want to change minds and hearts.”

“It gets to where they tell themselves it’s not homophobic,” Fascio said. “But it is.”

Fascio understands the journey Chiquilin is on. And both he and The 3252 president Jimmy Lopez appreciate that he’s taking the steps to educate himself, educate others and end the behavior.

“The road back for him is consistency and honesty,” Fascio said. “No one is perfect. Things happen. Our group is a reflection of society and we have every aspect in our group. But we have to stay consistent with our message. It can’t just be a cosmetic message. It has to be consistent, and there has to be follow up.

“That’s how we learn. That’s how restorative justice works. We want to change minds and hearts.”

Mauricio Fascio (left) and Jimmy Lopez of The 3252 have made curbing the use of gay slurs by LAFC fans a priority for the group.

Chiquilin understands all of that. At first angry and defensive, talking to Ruiz and others with Pride Republic has opened his eyes to the power of a word whose roots he simply didn’t understand. He never meant to demean anyone for their sexual orientation. Now he knows that’s exactly how it was received by some of his fellow LAFC fans and people across the Los Angeles community.

Ending homophobic slurs in and around LAFC

All of this hasn’t been easy. The 3252 has had to deal with multiple incidents of gay slurs over the last couple of years, most notably the “puto” chant that marred LAFC’s first playoff game in 2018. It came after a homophobic incident earlier in the season.

The playoff match awakened in the group a real need to address the idea — like Chiquilin articulated — that this kind of language is just “shit-talking.”

While last season there were no reported incidents of stadium-wide “puto” chants, members of Pride Republic did have to endure the chant on a bus, hosted by The 3252, to an LAFC “away” match at the LA Galaxy last season.

One fan on the bus, not realizing members of Pride Republic were there, repeatedly chanted “puto” during the ride.

When a member of Pride Republic confronted the homophobic chanter during the match, the fan went out of his way to make sure he offered what seemed to Ruiz to be a sincere apology about his language.

Ruiz respects The 3252 leadership for making the end of homophobic language a priority not just in the stands, but in everyday life.

“I think they are honestly making an effort to make the club an inclusive environment,” Ruiz said. “They are trying to do the right thing. It is a tidal wave of engrained culture in the Latino culture that we are battling. The ‘puto’ chant is from Mexico. The fanbase is heavily Latino. They are trying to do the right thing.”

It’s a sign of true dedication to the cause. Pride Republic is not a member of The 3252, yet the group understands there are LGBTQ fans — and fans who have LGBTQ family members — everywhere.

Plus, ensuring Banc of California Stadium is welcoming and safe for all fans is a priority for LAFC. That elevates the issue as a priority for The 3252 as well.

“We’re in a constant dialogue with Pride Republic, Paul Ruiz, these individuals who have come together to build representation of the LGBTQ community to support LAFC,” said Pat Aviles, director, brand and community at LAFC. “I love the relationship we have with them. When something happens we’re immediately on the phone to talk about how to respond and to co-create initiatives to continue to make sure people feel they can be who they are and support the club.”

Pride Republic celebrates the support of LAFC from the LGBTQ community.

Some of those initiatives have included occasional displays of rainbow flags, dialogue with the general manager of the stadium and the security team including multiple sit-downs with head of security to make sure they know about gay slurs and to make sure it’s being addressed in real-time when it happens.

For Ruiz and other members of Pride Republic, the group’s presence at LAFC matches — and hopefully, ultimately, as part of The 3252 — is bringing awareness and offering resources that will continue to build understanding.

The road back to The 3252 for Chiquilin

Chiquilin’s journey continues. He has held a virtual community forum on Zoom to talk about the incident and what he’s learned, and he participated in a virtual conversation for LAFC fans — hosted by Pride Republic — to elevate the visibility of the conversation.

This article is another step in his journey. When asked, Chiquilin didn’t hesitate to agree to talk about what he’s learned. He wants others to learn from his mistake. He seems to genuinely want good to come out of all of this.

“We don’t want to burn bridges,” Jimmy Lopez said. “We want to build them.”

To be sure, this hasn’t been easy; Chiquilin has faced pushback at home for this work. As he has now publicly and privately supported the LGBTQ community in bigger ways, he has also had to deal with various unhappy family members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and aren’t happy with his open embrace of the community.

“They’re my family,” he said, “but they are very different.”

He also knows he’s been disinvited from some club and fan events and is persona non grata with some people. He understands the path forward will be full of potholes, but his personal growth and position to help other people trumps all of that right now.

“I think these are good steps to move forward. I am trying to be an ally.”

He’s doing the right things. As both Lopez and Fascio said, alienating people who make mistakes — even mistakes involving ugly slurs — doesn’t help bring change.

“We don’t want to burn bridges,” Lopez said. “We want to build them.”

For more LAFC news and notes, check out Angels On Parade.

You can find out more about LAFC’s LGBTQ supporter group Pride Republic on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.