Payasos with a Cause


Clowning around and bringing a smile to a child’s face isn’t the only purpose of Los Payasos. Payasos LA, as the troupe of clowns is formally known, is a volunteer-based non-profit organization comprised currently of 24 gay Latino men in Los Angeles dedicated to improving the lives of children. The group, which provides fundraising and entertainment services to youth programs, made their debut on June 6, 2010 for an Operation Smile fundraiser at Cobra, a gay bar in North Hollywood, California.

Payasos representing Los Angeles

“The organization fills a void in the landscape of gay Latino Los Angeles,”says Leo Iriarte, one of the organization’s founders. “Los Payasos is at the intersection of various identities that on the surface might seem difficult to integrate. The group is building bridges between the immigrant Latino community, the urban ghettos, the gay leather community, and the gay Latino community.”

The idea for Los Payasos was conceived last year in Downtown Los Angeles, when founder Leo Iriarte and his husband Esteban Bartholo, and some of their friends, arrived at La Cita Bar’s Mustache Mondays in full clown make-up. Hiccups the Clown, who performs professionally for audiences at various venues in Los Angeles, including Dodger Stadium, invited them to dress as clowns that night just for fun.

Payasos at the AIDS Walk

Leo recognized that there was an opportunity to influence public opinion and raise funds for worthy causes dressed as clowns. In a matter of weeks, their organization was officially established. A long supporter of Operation Smile, a global foundation that provides free life-changing surgeries to children born with facial deformities, such as cleft lip and cleft palate, Leo made a general call to any men interested in raising funds for the charity and the response was overwhelming. The success of this first fundraiser helped launch other equally successful events in the organization’s inaugural year for organizations such as AIDS Project Los Angeles, Autism Speaks Now, Honor PAC, Hope House Inc., and the Wall-Las Memorias.

Payasos in line formation in West Hollywood

“More than a troop of clowns, each member considers himself part of a family,” Iriarte explains. ”Los Payasos operates much like a fraternity that is breaking out of traditional molds and creating high expectations for membership.”

“We are not gay Latino men being empowered by receiving services,”Iriarte adds. “We are empowered as gay Latino men by providing service to others.”

Payaso LA will be celebrating their 1 year anniversary at the BIG TOP BASH (June 8th) at Mickey’s. Proceeds will benefit “Gay Latino Los Angeles,” a documentary centered on the lives of three young gay Latinos from different social, economic, and national backgrounds.

To learn more about Los Payasos and their upcoming charity and fundrasing events visit or like them on Facebook.

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About the author

Marlon Morales

Marlon Morales has authored a number of editorials, policy essays and creative literary works. He is currently the grantwriter for the Liberty Hill Foundation in Los Angeles.

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  • Carlos

    At a time of much talked about movement building for power, Payasos LA contribute a unique flavor to our city. There have been decades of gay political power including some gay Latino political power development, and certainly inroads in business and industry, but Payasos LA represent a cultural movement for power that has not been seen in a while, and at the same time the organization has brought back joy into FUNdraising.

  • Ginger

    I am really impressed with how creative and fantastic you guy are for being so involved with the community. Have you ever considered working with Smile Train ? I have been a long time supporter and I know the children would love what you guys are doing. Smile Train is so forward thinking and I think it would be a great fit!