A gay man named Noel Arce (@elevatormusiiic) from Suffolk County, Long Island, NY, took to Instagram to pay tribute to his gay dads, both of whom he lost to AIDS in 1994. His dads, Steven and Louis, passed away within a few days of each other.
Noel sent a family photo to @theaidsmemorial on Instagram that shows him and his two brothers along with their adoptive fathers who raised them for “around six years of their childhood.” His tribute reads:
These are my dads, Louis Arce (left) (November 1, 1946 – June 23, 1994) and Steven J. Koceja (right) (August 21, 1962 – June 18, 1994), who both died of AIDS. I am pictured far right, my brother Joey is on the left and Angel, center. We came to them in 1988 after being in a foster home. And while we weren’t legally theirs until 1993, they were still our dads. We were theirs and they were ours.
We weren’t with Louis and Steven very long before they passed. They never got a chance to see the men we are today but they cared for us very much and gave us a life that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. It’s incredible even now, after all these years, I can still feel what it felt like to be loved that much.
Further, Noel shared that his father, Louis, worked as a social worker, activist and manager for Manhattan Valley apartments. Louis, he said, was “responsible for making sure that new developments going up would provide a certain percentage of housing for people living with HIV/AIDS.” And because of his activism and work in the HIV/AIDS community, Louis received a Gold Key Award from NYC @bailey_house in 1994.
Sadly, Noel said that “little is known” about his father, Steven. He explained, “Sometimes, I swear my memories are like a train. It gets smaller as it pulls away.”
But I can say this: It’s hard to imagine what our life would have been like without them. I think of them often. And as a gay man myself, I wonder what it must of [sic] been like for them. What it felt like. To be strong like that. But mostly I wonder if they ever look down on me, my brothers and the world and think, ‘Wow, I’m proud!’
According to Queerty, Noel Arce is currently a Cosmetics Manager who has worked as the drag artist, Violet Storm, for 13 years now.
“I think having two fathers played a huge role in my life as a gay man. I hear a lot of people’s stories about their growing up gay and how rough they had it,” Noel said in an interview with Queerty. “Parents not accepting them or them having to edit themselves. Ya know, the ‘be yourself but do it like this.’ That was never my story. I was blessed having two dads who let me be authentically myself.”
Noel revealed that he had everything he ever desired, that he was able to play with Barbie dolls and dress as female characters for Halloween and feel really lucky about that because “I understand now what a unique situation that was. Because the world can be a cruel place.”
Lastly, he said, “I don’t think a lot of parents understand that the greatest gift you can give a child is the freedom to be themselves.” You can read the interview in full here.
The post was flooded with comments thanking Noel for sharing their story. One reader, @mrvincentboucher on Instagram, said: “There is so much love in that story. Thank you.” While another, @timmydeanlee, who is apparently a family friend, said: “Noel, thank for answering what I often thought about. What ever happened to Louis and Stevens three boys? I remember them fighting through the paperwork to get you three boys. They were so elated when they did. What a beautiful picture of all of you. Ten minutes later and I’m still crying reading your tribute.”
Check out Noel Arce’s moving tribute to his gay dads on The AIDS Memorial below: