Robert Castillo

Ruby's Rap

by Ruby Comer

Photo courtesy R. Castillo
Photo courtesy R. Castillo

GETAWAY! Ta-ta to LaLa Land for a few days. Cruising in my Mother Lincoln (’69 Mark III Classic), my pal Robert Castillo and I head down east on the 10 freeway to Temecula, a Native American region which means “The Sun That Shines Through The Mist.” We pull up to Pechanga Resort and Casino, owned by the Pechanga of Luiseño Indians, where the bellhops grab our bags.

As we enter the luxurious lobby, the stress of the week melts away. Even though much of the outside is currently under construction (nearly $300 million expansion, which will triple the size of the already large property that will open in early 2018), the place is buzzin’ with folks. On the way to our room we pass by the ding-ding-ding of the slot machines that sport bright flashing colorful lights.

In our pleasant comfy room that looks out on the Pu’eska mountains (which means “where the rocks cry”), Robert and I kick back and have a glass of vino. My young friend inspires me.

The financial advisor who turned thirty this year, started his altruistic work at the tender age

Illustration by Davidd Batalon
Illustration by Davidd Batalon

of sixteen—when he came out! Unable to speak to anyone about being gay, he began attending a weekly youth group at the LGBT Center in his hometown of (conservative) Fresno, California. He volunteered to raise awareness of the Center and even marched with its float at the pride parade. From there he entered UCLA (graduating with a bachelor’s in Art History and French) that led to working with the HRC, Equality California, APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles), and LGBT causes, including being on the advisory board for Colors LGBTQ Youth Counseling Center which encompasses counseling to HIV-positive youth. Essentially…the man cares.

So does the Pechanga Tribe, which puts on an annual golf tournament, the proceeds of which, $100,000, is split between four charities. The Tribe and its resort also provide resources to the American Cancer Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and countless others, including HIV organizations as well.

The next morning, we take a hotel tram over to the Golf Center to have breakfast at the very woodsy plush cut stone-layered walled, “Journey’s End.” Eating my salmon omelet, served by the congenial Sabrina, Robert and I gaze out the window onto two huge peaceful oak trees.

Ruby Comer: [Sounding a tad envious] How is your wild caught salmon on that waaarm buttered croissant? I wish I would have gotten that but mine is outta this world! So Robert, in your daily work of financial planning, how have policies changed toward HIV-positive clients?
Robert Castillo: I help HIV-positive people obtain life insurance, as there is now coverage for them.

How has the epidemic affected you?
Initially I feared the epidemic, largely because I didn’t know much about contracting or treating HIV. I first learned about HIV prevention in high school at the age of fourteen, in a mandatory course called Sociology for Living. [Robert attended the highly respected arts high school, Roosevelt School of the Arts.] I had a sense of nervousness towards it because I had never met anyone who was affected by it in any way. When I got older and moved to L.A., I learned more about the epidemic and about the vibrant community that supports its advancement and treatment.

Say, when were you first tested?
I was first tested at age seventeen in a Planned Parenthood facility. I was very nervous but was glad that there was a volunteer there who was in her early twenties who really calmed me through the process.

That’s a great plus! Though I know you’re not dating now, how do you approach the sensitive subject of STIs with the other person?
I’m pretty straightforward. I just ask! I ask them about STIs and when they last got tested. I believe many men my age are similar, too. In one recent situation, I actually got tested while on a first date….

[I interrupt] First date?!
[He nods] As did my date. We got tested at a mobile test center outside of a gay bar. We had previously mentioned to each other that we are very safe when it comes to sex, so it wasn’t odd at all that we got tested.

Now that’s what I call the beginning of a great relationship! Have you ever had unprotected sex?
Yes. [He glances out the window momentarily at someone teeing off.]

What still bugs you about your peers when it comes to the epidemic?
While there has been a move to break down the social stigma surrounding HIV, I still believe that too many gay men of my generation are not tolerant enough. I’m happy to see many men adopt PrEP, but there is even a stigma about that now. I think men my age are aware about the epidemic and responsible about AIDS prevention, but I don’t think they are the most open to dating someone who is positive/undetectable.

Interesting to hear you say that. I would think that they are not that safe, just shrug it off, and take their chances thinking they’ll just be able to control the virus by taking pills if they get infected. Have you dated anyone who was HIV-positive?
No, Ruby, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

How do we reach people in your generation, and younger, about prevention?
[He sips his champagne.] Well, places like Planned Parenthood and LGBT centers. That’s how I learned about it. I think youth groups are effective also.

Yes, greatly beneficial. What’s your take on the pandemic’s current state of affairs?
While I strongly believe that there is a huge part of the world that needs more access to education and treatment, I feel at an advantage to live in an era where someone who is HIV-positive can live a long and healthy life without being ostracized. Or, that I can take preventative medication and greatly reduce my chances of contracting HIV. Even so, many members of our own community in L.A. still do not know about, or perhaps don’t accept these advancements, thereby creating a social stigma.

Castillo with Colors LGBTQ Youth Counseling Center's Advisory Board. Photo courtesy Colors/R. Castillo
Castillo with Colors LGBTQ Youth Counseling Center’s Advisory Board. Photo courtesy Colors/R. Castillo

After breakfast we cavort in the casino, stroll old town Temecula, and even indulge in frozen yogurt. (When you pick up your car from the hotel valet, which is free, the driver always leaves bottled water on your seat. Nice touch.) By late afternoon, we hurry back to the Resort as we have a massage appointment at Spa Pechanga. After steam and a rubdown, Robert and I reconvene in the serene waiting area. We sip some herbal tea and have some raw almonds and cashews. While we kick back in soft chushy chairs, and allow our bodies to continue to effervesce, I ask Robert a question.

Working with Colors LGBTQ Youth Counseling Center and meeting all kinds of kids, is there one scenario that stands out that touched your heart?
One particular time was when we received a request from a mother to bring in her transgender ten-year-old daughter for counseling with our LGBT-affirmative therapists, which provides free services. We were really excited to meet the two of them. It just shows the reflection of the organization’s mission of reaching out, including parents who are supportive of their children’s gender identity.

Why did you want to become a financial advisor?
Financial planning is not something we learn about in schools, yet it is so essential to one’s well being. I decided to become an expert in a field where I could really make a difference for people.

Robert, you have certainly made a difference in my life [he’s my FA]!
So happy to know! Having had a background in non-profit education and fundraising, I found it natural to become a financial advisor. Much of my work is educating my clients on financial strategies they should be considering to better their situation. [He stops and ponders.] I …do…believe…that there’s still a lot of room for growth among the LGBT and HIV communities around the world, which is why I am a huge supporter of these causes.

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].