GLAAD's POC Media Director Mónica Taher and El Gordo y La Flaca host Raúl de Molina from Univision at a GLAAD awards ceremony. Photo by Alissa Christine Photography, courtesy of GLAAD.
By Tania Unzueta Carrasco
'Many of us do not agree with the 'gay' agenda and that means we discriminate [ ? ] . We only want to maintain a moral standard in our society. Tolerance is one thing, but accepting the unacceptable is too much.'
These are the words of Hoy newspaper Chicago columnist Rey Flores, in a piece entitled 'The 'gay' conflict,' which was published on July 10. Among his criticisms of the 'gay agenda,' he argues that because Latino children are poor they have no choice but to be taught by public schools, which are influenced by homosexuals.
In particular, he refers to the National Education Association ( NEA ) , a volunteer-based network of educators that focuses on providing support for public school teachers and lobbying for education funds, and says that they 'actively promote homosexual marriage.' 'Since when do we send our children to public schools so that they are taught these kinds of things?' he asks.
Hoy newspaper, owned by the Chicago Tribune Company, is published in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The column, full of decades-old stereotypes made to look like facts, was published and circulated to around 500,000 people, according to reports by the Certified Audit of Circulations.
After talks with Carlos Macias, Spanish-language media manager at the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) , the paper did not run his Flores' column the following week and, instead, gave the space to Macias to write a response.
'Hoy has been a great ally in educating our community and is always open to hearing comments or compliments on their portrayals of the LGBT community,' wrote Macias in a general e-mail on GLAAD's LGBT Latino Media Activist list.
Nevertheless, a printed response has not been enough for some local LGBT activists. 'Unfortunately, because Flores' thinking resonates in much of the Latino community … responses from places such as GLADD do not always sway readers,' says Cindy Ibarra, communications coordinator for the Young Women's Empowerment Project and an active member of the LGBT Chicago Latino community.
She says that articles like Flores' serve to affirm some already held beliefs. 'The responses are informative but they just don't pull at the heartstrings like Flores-esque articles might.'
For her the problem stems from the media not taking the time to learn about the issues affecting the LGBT community.
'They'll have you believe that we are all white privileged gay males with money that organize only to get married. We also fight for sexual health, reproductive justice, immigrant rights and more. I think they need to remember something called social/civic responsibility,' says Ibarra.
But while the media learns to educate itself, GLAAD has begun to do it for them. 'Many times they have told us that we are trying to restrict freedom of expression, and many times they have threatened to sue us,' says Monica Taher, a People of Color media director and a colleague of Macias at GLAAD. 'They have freedom of expression. But if they don't start covering the LGBT community in a fair and objective manner, without stereotypes, they will remain in the stone age, the age of the dinosaurs,' she says.
But for Taher, although there are these occasional incidents, in particular in large media outlets, the coverage of LGBT people in Spanish media has been changing.
She cites examples like the presentation of Azteca America network's show Lo que callamos las mujeres ( What women are silent about ) 'Special on Homosexuality,' a week of episodes on LGBT issues; an episode of the popular talk show 'El show de Cristin' on Univision that aired in June; and gossip show El Gordo y la Flaca, which features Cachita, the only transexual character in Spanish language media.
Taher is one of the people responsible for this gradual change. She has been speaking to executives and producers in the Latino media since 2004, and says that, in general, people have been responding well.
'Our first meeting with a famous producer was with Cuco Arias, the producer of Sabado Gigante. It was the first call that GLAAD made to Spanish-language media.'
In that meeting they succeeded in eliminating a regular character on the show that she describes as 'super-effeminate, super-denigrating and very ignorant.' 'It was the first call we made and we won,' she remembers.
Since then, Taher and Macias have met with a series of publishers, editors, producers and journalists throughout the country, performing such services as holding workshops on Univision on covering the LGBT community. She speaks mainly about Univision because their soap operas, newscasts, radio stations and Web site reach around 97% of Spanish speakers in the U.S.
But the real struggle, says Taher, is targeting the media that is coming to the United States from Latin America. 'Eighty percent of the shows on Univision are produced by Televisa, in a studio in Mexico City. If we don't have access to Televisa, we are not going to be able to change what is broadcasted in the United States to the Spanish-speaking audience,' explains Taher.
This has been a completely different experience—'as different as night and day,' she describes. Taher says that it is not only the weight of religion and cultural patterns, but also that in Latin America there is no government-sponsored institution that regulates communications, like the Federal Communication Commission ( FCC ) does in the U.S.
'There is no one who can charge a fee if someone says 'jotito' o 'maricon',' both words for 'faggot,' says Taher. But she has been doing it. In the last couple of months she has met with directors and managers from Televisa, TV Azteca, TV Novelas, TV notas—all from Mexico—as well as TV Globo from Brasil and other news and television networks in Latin America.
They try to hold meetings that include the producers and managers as well as members of local LGBT organizations.
Tahir says that they only try to provide local activists with the tools and contacts so that they can continue the work, because they are already conscious of what is going on in their own community, but because activism in Latin America is generally not paid, they don't always have the time or resources to act against homophobic representations in the media.
She also says that it's kind of what they want to do here in the United States. She says that GLAAD wants to expand the Spanish-language media program and while continuing the work in Latin America, have more monitoring of local newspapers and broadcasts, with the help of local activists.
Taher says that this has already worked in the past, siting as example the work that has been done with local radio host 'El Pistolero'. It was the Chicago activists that told GLAAD about the homophobic comments that were being made by him on his morning show. They sent a Call To Action and since them have been in talks with Univision Radio, which hosts the show.
'He has been growing with us, he has learned. About six months ago, El Pistolero said that there was nothing wrong with a child being raised by two mothers. A year ago when we sent that 'call to action' we would have never believed he would make a comment like that,' she says.
In the end though, Taher says that it is the responsibility of the LGBT community to monitor the media, and says that if anyone hears something offensive, they should report it to GLAAD, or call the media manager themselves.
'The whole Latino LGBT community has the right to complain, to ask questions, and only if we speak up will we have the power to change these inaccurate and offensive images.'