*I originally published this post on The Huffington Post.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Merida, the city where I was born and lived for 18 years, to attend my high school friend, Chalo’s, wedding. I ran into people I had not seen since we finished school, and we talked about our jobs, our plans, our significant others. I was so happy to catch up with them.
I also felt weird. I remembered my insecurities when we used to talk at recess, after school or at parties about, for instance, what girl we liked or who we wanted to date. At that time, I thought I mastered the art of choosing every word carefully, and even my tone of voice, to make sure they couldn’t tell I was lying. To keep it from showing. Because, of course, I was not interested in any girl, but actually attracted to a few of our male classmates. At this reunion at Chalo’s wedding, there was something missing: That imaginary shield I wore my whole time as a teenager was gone. Chatting with them without fearing that they could tell I was into boys, and not trying to maintain a certain appearance made me felt so comfortable. A liberating sort of comfort, because being in the closet is exhausting.
I told my friends and family I am gay about six or seven years ago. They responded in different ways, from lectures of how “forming relationships that won’t result in new lives destroys the love that God gives us,” to a, “Welcome to this big family of queers,” email from a lesbian aunt. Now I still hear of stories as varied as mine. Anecdotes range from the funniest to the most depressing.
In a world that still makes a lot of room for homophobia, where many young people still wear imaginary shields, coming out of the closet is still relevant. Not only in the privacy of our homes, schools and workplaces, but publicly. That is why I am moved by Ellen Page’s speech at the Human Rights Campaign conference where she said she’s gay, and reminds us of “people who go to school every day and get treated like shit, or feel like they can’t tell their parents the whole truth.” That’s why I’m glad to see in the New York Times Maria Bello’s article about being bisexual, fighting the myth that there is no such thing as bisexuality, or that bisexuals are just confused. That’s why I get excited to learn that Michael Sam, Brian Boitano, Ian Matos and Tom Daley are brushing off homophobic stereotypes in sports. Coming out still matters, and young people need to hear these stories. My 16-year-old self would have definitely wanted that.
Media shapes these closets, but closets shape the media as well. And, yes, some of those coming outs serve marketing purposes for celebrities and athletes. Yes, some are part of communication strategies with the help of experts. Yes, “we already knew” a couple of you were gay or lesbian. So what? Can’t we celebrate that someone stopped pretending, and is having a better time? That they are telling the world they have no reason to be ashamed or hide? A publicity stunt to advance someone’s career and sending out a positive message are not mutually exclusive events. Coming out of the closet, privately and publicly, is still powerful.
Being in the closet is exhausting. It’s a heavy mask, says Mexican actor José María Yazpik’s character when he comes out to his dad in La vida en el Espejo. I hope to see more Ellens, Marias, Michaels, Toms. More Rickys, Chavelas, Rachel Maddows and Kevin Kellers (for us fans of Archie Comics). I want to see more celebrities in Mexico and Latin America coming out too. We already know who a few of you are, anyway. It’s no big deal. And I promise to welcome you to this big family of queers.
*This post was originally published on The Huffington Post‘s Gay Voices and Latino Voices.
Last month I was in Los Angeles for the first time. I attended GLAAD’s second edition of the National People of Color Media Institute, an awesome project GLAAD launched to bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people of color working on different issues and in different communities, have them share their experiences, and enhance their potential as advocates and spokespeople for those communities. The aim of GLAAD through this institute and their Voices of Color program, led by Daryl Hannah, is to bring more Black, Latino, and Asian faces to our newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio and television shows. I was honored to be the first non-U.S. resident who participated.
The work GLAAD has done to make media a more inclusive space for LGBT people (in the U.S. and increasingly elsewhere), and to make LGBT stories more present and powerful in that media for almost 30 years, cannot be understated. However, LGBT people of color are not visible enough on mainstream media. And I would say not even on LGBT media. Look at, for example, gay characters who are on TV shows right now: Louis on Partners, Kurt on Glee, Bryan on The New Normal, Cam and Mitch on Modern Family. All white guys.
According to The Opportunity Agenda’s Public Opinion and Discourse on the Intersections of LGBT Issues and Race 2012 report, LGBT issues are under-reported in Latino media in the U.S., although California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 drove those media to have a wider coverage of LGBT issues. Not surprising, considering the large population of Latinos in the state. The report also points out that much “of the anti-LGBT rhetoric, slurs, and derogatory language found in this media scan come from users’ online comments, not from the media themselves.” When I blogged for VivirMexico.com, I would often get very homophobic, moronic comments from readers, such as “Fags are shitty people. Fags themselves are to be blamed of being discriminated against. Their attitude is annoying and some times disrespectful. If they’re fags I don’t care. Fuck with each other and that’s it, but the sissy ones are disgusting.”
I have a hard time translating the concept of “people of color” with all its heavy, powerful meaning to our experience in Mexico. Race and racism are not topics present on the media, much less on off-screen daily conversations. We often think of Mexico as a racism-free society. But the strongest form of discrimination against black people, for example, is not ignoring their exclusion but actually thinking there aren’t any here, except for the occasional model on a Mexico City fashion week runway. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred) has done research and spread information on discrimination against people of African descent. Other than that, they are practically invisible. According to Jonathan Orozco, a communication staffer at Conapred, there are no official numbers on the African descent community living in Mexico. Same goes for LGBTs, by the way: we don’t know exactly how many of us are there, working as what, living where, etc.
Except for a couple of pieces or documentaries on the muxes living in Oaxaca, I can’t recall seeing anyone who was LGBT and indigenous on screen. And I don’t foresee it happening any time soon, if even bouncers at some gay bars and clubs are responsible for leaving “indigenous-looking” people out.
Growing up in a privileged background, having a mostly harmless coming-out process, being surrounded by other gays and lesbians in my family, and living in the only city in the country where I can marry my boyfriend has let me experience a homophobic society. I can only imagine what things are like for someone on the other end of racist, classist Mexico.
Where are all those faces in the pages of gay magazines, on the ads of hookup websites, on TV shows? For a group that is such a target of bigotry, we as LGBT media could do a lot better to address those other types of exclusion happening within our community.
A few weeks ago I called a meeting with editors and journalists from different Mexican LGBT media. I invited members of cable and online television, commercial and public radio, blogs, independent and high-profile magazines, mainstream newspapers, freelancers, an LGBT news agency which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and a comedy writer. Everyone except a couple attended. We gathered at the top floor of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, which kindly let me use its space.
I had wanted to get them all together for a while, but couldn’t think of a clearer purpose other than seating at a round table, talking, and seeing where the discussion lead us. As a blogger and journalist focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues, I am concerned with the approach different media have on members and stories of my community. Mainstream media in Mexico are increasingly including LGBT content in positive ways. Some examples are AnimalPolitico.com, Chilango magazine, CNNMexico.com, E! Latin News, M Semanal magazine, and Reforma newspaper. In 2011 a gay fashion designer and his husband were number one on Quién magazine’s (focused on soft journalism) cover story about the most attractive couples in the country. On the other hand, tabloids, and productions by mass media company Televisa (including gay-oriented TV show Guau) are often responsible for homophobic expressions and bigoted characters.
I am also concerned with the state of LGBT media as a striving industry. Every day I ask myself who is actually reading, watching, and listening to us. I worry that it’s mostly ourselves paying attention to what our colleagues are doing, and giving each other feedback. And that’s awesome if we’re in the business of addressing issues that only we care about, of patting each other’s backs and lifting each other’s egos (or, seen more meanly, bitching about each other’s work). But if we’re in the business of raising awareness on sexual diversity, of fighting discrimination against LGBT people, of sharing stories, of shifting opinions, of speaking up, of being the voices of those who are shut by the closet, or if we want our work to be a business at all we need to take an incisive look at what we do and how we are executing our work as narrators of reality.
Brian Pacheco from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) shares some of these interests, and he was coming to Mexico City. I have been collaborating with him and Monica Trasandes from GLAAD’s Spanish-Language Media Department since last year in the project LGBT en Español, so Brian’s visit was another excuse to invite my colleagues to a meeting.
After we each introduced ourselves, Brian talked about the work of GLAAD in the United States as an advocate, storyteller and anything-but-subtle watchdog. Then I posed a few questions to trigger the conversation, and here are some of the outcomes:
W Radio, which belongs to Televisa, is the only commercial station with a gay show, Triple G, which has aired for over ten years. At the meeting, co-host Francisco Iglesias pointed out the lack of professionalization of many mainstream media in terms of LGBT issues, but reminded us of the contrasting lack of professionalization of LGBT media in journalistic terms: very few of us are producing newsworthy content, and it’s not us but often nation-wide papers the first to report on LGBT happenings in the country. The main reason is that most LGBT media struggle with their budget, and therefore are short-staffed. “Many reporters for LGBT media do not get paid, and that is the first level of discrimination we are allowing.” Everyone in the room remained silent for a few seconds after journalist Alejandro Brofft pointed out that awkward truth.
Francisco mentioned another important issue: many LGBT media depend on just two or three people. What happens to those projects when they’re gone? We all agreed that transgender people are practically invisible in our profession, and that there are not a lot of women (I only know two, and they were both unable to attend). A significant portion of our audience is closeted. Incidentally, there are not many openly LGBT public figures in Mexico. Some good news: while almost all high-profile LGBT media are based in Mexico City, we are increasingly noticing smaller LGBT media outlets in other states, which are doing great work to fight discrimination in their communities.
There was a debate on whether government should fund LGBT media “because their work is sort of a public service” versus thinking of LGBT media as initiatives that must survive and become profitable through investors, advertising, and sales, just like the rest of our non-LGBT peers.
This meeting was a pilot of more to come, I anticipate. An experiment that turned out fruitful. It confirmed what many of us knew: we face many of the same challenges. Talking about them and sharing our experiences serves not so much as a support group, but as a mirror of what we can do individually and collectively to improve our work. While we are not all necessarily activists, LGBT media do have a role in making society a safer, more respectful place for LGBTs. And in order to do that we must get better at our job.
The most tangible conclusion we arrived at regarding how to work collectively was the possibility of setting up an observatory in Mexico with tasks similar to GLAAD’s, of running it with volunteers versus obtaining funds to make it a more sustainable project. I am now in the process of talking to media representatives who where invited but couldn’t come, and I have committed to gather the group from that meeting again in the upcoming weeks, and to add some key allies from non-LGBT media who might want to join us. I will keep you posted.
Each year the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gives out a number of media awards to honor outstanding images and stories of LGBT people. Since they first began in 1990, they’ve become the single most prestigious recognition of its kind. In 2012, the 23rd GLAAD Media Awards were presented in ceremonies in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This last one just took place last weekend.
A few weeks ago I talked to Rich Ferraro, Director of Communications at the organization, about the awards and the organization’s influence in the media.
How did the GLAAD Media Awards start? What is their purpose?
GLAAD is an organization that works with the media to tell stories about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people. We work with a wide range of media from entertainment outlets, movie studios and TV networks to national news outlets in America, religious press, sports media, online media. We’ve seen that when people hear stories about LGBT people, and allies of LGBT people, they come to learn that LGBT people deserve the same opportunities as they do.
The GLAAD Media Awards honor those stories. They began with an awards ceremony in New York 23 years ago with just a handful of honorees, because LGBT issues were not so spoken about in the media, and certainly not spoken about in a positive way. We wanted a way to say you’re doing a good job, and we want others to follow. And now what we’ve seen is that the awards have become the most visible LGBT event in America, and likely around the world. We’ve had celebrities from Ricky Martin to Ellen Degeneres and Josh Hutcherson, star of The Hunger Games.
Can you tell me about the process of choosing honorees?
We have nominees in English and Spanish-language for a total of 35 categories including news, entertainment, TV, film, as well as some smaller parts of our culture like theatre, comic books, where stories of LGBT people are impacting our culture and creating change. GLAAD has a series of volunteer juries with expertise and with industry experience in all of these different areas. The juries come up with a pool of nominees with a termometer in the media year-round, whether it’s music artists who have used their recent albums to raise awareness on LGBT issues, or monitoring local news media.
GLAAD’s Board of Directors, staff and some of our major donors choose. They vote on the winners. The criteria for voting on the awards recipients is that they are fair, accurate and inclusive of our community, of the full diversity in the LGBT community, it should be original content, a news story that we haven’t heard before, tactful, reaching Americans and those around the world, and overall quality.
There are three ceremonies. Is there a different set of categories or audience for each? Do they have different goals?
The goal of each ceremony is to provide a platform for celebrities and media outlets to talk about their support for LGBT people. It is also to honor public figures and media outlets who are doing an exemplary job. The GLAAD Media Awards have become an industry benchmark that a lot of different movie studios, production companies, newspapers and television networks strive for. They want this recognition. They want to know that they are doing a good job for our community.
The GLAAD Media Awards are also a fundraiser for GLAAD’s work year-round to tell stories of LGBT people. The awards in the three different cities are part of our fundraising. It’s also kind of a way for us to get in front of different communities around the country. In addition to the people who attend the events, each of these has a program with young adults, LGBT and their allies, who come to the awards for free through generous donations from our sponsors. They are able to interact with others like them, to say hello to celebrities who support them for who they are, and they get to see the show.
Do you think the GLAAD Media Awards somehow help push forward or enhance someone’s career, a certain media or show’s success?
I think what they’ve done is they’ve pushed celebrities, public figures and media to do a better and more proactive job at telling LGBT stories.
Speaking of GLAAD’s work more generally, where does GLAAD draw the line between calling out on media’s unfair representation of LGBT people and issues, holding them accountable for their words and images, and making it seem as if GLAAD is maybe trying to censor the media?
More and more when we’re calling out celebrities or media outlets, we’re trying to do more than just get an apology. We’re trying to make it a teachable moment for our culture, and we’re trying to start a national dialogue.
Last year Tracy Morgan, a comedian and actor, made a joke in a standup routine that if his son was gay he would stab him. At GLAAD we hear stories when we work with organizations such as The Trevor Project, we know of the harm and what could happen to LGBT young people when their parents don’t accept them. We’ve also heard terrible stories about the violence that LGBT people face. What we wanted with Tracy was not to bully him into an apology, not to get a two-sentence press statement, but we wanted to use that as a way to really start a national dialogue about what it means when parents reject their LGBT kids, and the violence that LGBT people face.
We spoke with Tracy Morgan, we told him we wanted to take him to The Ali Forney Center, which is a homeless shelter for LGBTs in New York City. He went there with us, he met with young adults whose parents didn’t approve of who they were, and as a result these kids were turned away. Thankfully they had an organization such as The Ali Forney Center to welcome them.
Tracy then spoke with the media and told his fans, who are people that maybe wouldn’t generally hear of this, about why they should accept LGBT people. They heard from someone they admire and from someone whose career they follow that the right thing to do is to accept your kids no matter what. We also worked with teens at The Ali Forney Center to get them to talk about their own stories in the press. After they met with Tracy they went to The Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, MTV News, to some really powerful and international news publications so they could talk, not only about meeting with Tracy but also about their own personal stories.
More and more we’re really trying to push the envelopes. It’s not so much about GLAAD versus the media. It’s about GLAAD telling a wider story.