Saturday, July 07, 2007

Television host says she didn't know expression was homophobic, should she have been fired?

A wide array of Latino LGBT leaders throughout the United States took notice of the recent firing of the host of a popular Spanish-language television gossip show for using a word that might be interpreted as homophobic in Cuba but not necessarily in other Latin American countries. I mean, I'm certainly as knowledgeable as most people when it comes to homophobic expressions in Latino culture and even I had no idea that the word cherna could be interpreted to mean "faggot." Then again I am not of Cuban or Caribbean descent (nor is Luisa Fernanda, the fired host).

Today's Miami Herald takes a look at Telemundo's swiftness in terminating Luisa Fernanda's contract as the host of "Cotorreando" and the mixed reaction from Latino gay leaders including Ron Brenesky of Miami's Unity Coalition - who is of Cuban descent - and says she should not have been fired ("Host had 'no idea' of gay slur").

The groovy, amazing and lovely Monica Taher of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (not to say that Ron isn't just as lovely or amazing) also expresses ambivalence about the firing, praising Telemundo's willingness to address instances of homophobia on the programs they broadcast, but also stating that the context in which the word was said was not necessarily homophobic.

Last week, Monica did an informal survey of Latino LGBT leaders throughout the United States and got a varied response, mostly supporting Luisa Fernanda.

How some of us came to defend a host in as trashy a gossip show as "Cotorreando" still makes me giggle a bit.

El muy groovy and amazing Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano (OMG, I love that name) put up his thoughts over on his blog God is Brown on Friday.

Here is what I sent to Monica last week as well:

When CBS radio fired Don Imus over the racially-insensitive comments he made on air a couple of months ago, it seemed to me that the radio company was responding to the escalating national outrage and the potential impact on their advertising dollars rather than purely because Imus had crossed the line. As has been reported, Imus and his on-air cohorts had crossed that line over and over again with nary a peep from CBS radio UNTIL it became a national controversy.

Similarly, Spanish-language radio shows such as "El Vacilon de la Manana" have long been the target of protests by Latino LGBT organizations and activists for more than a decade and none of the radio stations that carry El Vacilon have ever deemed that it was appropriate to suspend or fire a radio personality for skits, call pranks or comments that not only crossed the line but probably violated FCC regulations as well (case in point: a skit song about a man enjoying being raped and wanting more that was on "El Vacilon" at the time that radio personality Luis Jimenez was part of the crew).

The recent suspension of Luis Jimenez who made a move to Univision radio after he was offered a multi-million dollar contract was shockingly swift and must have been embarrassing for Jimenez. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the move came after Jimenez used pejorative language to refer to lesbians.

But don’t look for an explanation from Jimenez or Univision radio: Jimenez has yet to officially speak about the incident – or apologize – and Univision radio has only put out a vague statement about “inappropriate comments” and its commitment to upholding the “highest standards.”

But, come on! Univision must have known exactly what Jimenez would bring to the show (Jimenez has a well documented history of homophobic outbursts on and off the air).

Most probably, in the wake of Imus, Univision felt threatened by GLAAD’s interest in Jimenez’ show and potential repercussions if advertisers got wind of it.

The firing of Luisa Fernanda from Cotorreando shows that these punitive actions are probably a passing trend rather than Latino media finally having found its "conscience."

I have had a long personal and professional interest in being a watchdog over the representation of the LGBT community in Spanish-language media so perhaps I've been more involved than others on this topic. So I guess I can say that it frustrates me that some in our own community side with those who say that we are humorless censors looking for any opportunity to shut down anyone or anything that does not portray the LGBT community in the best light – when that could not be further from the case.

The Latino LGBT community is incredibly diverse. We come in all hues and degrees of masculinity or femininity, with all sorts of political and ideological backgrounds. There should be effeminate gay men or butch lesbian women represented on out television or radio shows, as well as femme lesbians and macho gay guys. There are good and bad and semi-good and semi-bad gay people. The issue is not to block out aspects of our community we might not like or to concentrate exclusively on the greatness of the LGBT community (although we ARE great!) but to stop being ridiculed and assaulted through Spanish-language media at our expense.

There is humor to be had through skits, songs or comedies that portray the LGBT community in Spanish language media (see the now defunct and groundbreaking Telemundo comedy "Los Beltran") but one thing is to laugh with us and quite another at us.

So, having said this, it might shock some people to hear me say that Luisa Fernanda should not have been fired from Cotorreando. By all intents and purposes, she has had an on air and off air history of supporting the Latino gay community in ways that other supposedly pro-gay personalities have not done. And if she says that she had no idea that the comment she made was pejorative of lesbians in the Caribbean, she has more than earned the right for us to take those comments at face value.

Still, Jimenez is the superstar radio personality that Univision hopes will bring millions to the station – and he only gets a month's suspension (he is back on air as I write this) - while Luisa Fernanda is off-the air at Telemundo for good.

To me, this shows a case of commercial skittishness and fear from the national radio and television broadcasters rather than a true desire to curve some of the most offensive content on Spanish-language radio or television today.

It's great that Telemundo and Luisa Fernanda met this week with Miami's Unity Coalition. Hopefully the conversations will lead Telemundo to ask Luisa Fernanda back on the show.

But the networks and radio producers have a long way to truly change a culture that promotes extreme offensiveness in exchange for increased ratings even if they do have the power to edit content despite their contention that it's "what the public wants."

Censoring expression, even if its language that offends, is not the way to change cultural stereotypes. It’s whether that language incites hate, prejudice and violence against others that matters and needs to be challenged.

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