Activists target homophobia on Spanish language radio

by Brian Theobald

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 7, 2007

The popular Spanish language morning radio show El Vacilon de la MaŮana came under fire recently for a series of pre-meditated bits activists say are disparaging to the GLBT community.

In one segment, a bisexual character named Papi Chulo, or "Pretty Boy," leaped and cavorted about the studio to a chorus of laughs and shouts, aggressively simulating sex with anyone who crossed his path.

In another, a swishy, effeminate gay character introduced himself as Mariconsuelo. "Maricon" is Spanish for "fag."

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) began monitoring the program, broadcast on La Mega, 97.9 WSKQ FM in New York, after receiving a host of complaints from concerned community members. The media watchdog has joined other GLBT organizations to curb what they perceive as persistent homophobic stereotypes and defamation among Spanish language radio stations.

Statistics have shown that the Latino community is marked by strong religious and cultural aversions to homosexuality, and advocates fear that these feelings can manifest themselves in the worst of ways under the guise of shock jock provocation.

"There's been a long history of Spanish morning shows who treat GLBT characters in a very sensationalistic manner," said GLAAD Spanish language news media strategist Chuy Sanchez.

Sanchez met with principal El Vacilon hosts Frankie J. and Juan Carlos and station manager Frank Flores last month to voice his concerns.

"We fell into the same trap that most people fall into, thinking everything is funny when you're not the punch line to the joke."

"A lot of these negative stereotypes come from a lack of understanding and lack of exposure to gays and lesbians in Spanish language media," he said, "so we decided it was worthwhile to educate them about proper terminology and the importance of accurate representation."

Flores said he and his hosts were receptive to his criticism. "We fell into the same trap most people fall into, thinking everything is funny until you're the puchline to the joke," Flores said. "They made us very much aware of the things we needed to change. It was like light bulbs going off in our heads."

The staff promised to tone down or remove the offensive characters in the near future, and promptly deleted the more questionable auxiliary material, including the video of Papi Chulo's antics, from the show's website.

"Changes like this don't occur overnight," Flores said, "but the important thing is we now have a renewed sensitivity to the problem and an ongoing relationship with GLAAD. I told them that this is an ongoing process and they can always tell us when we've crossed a line."

The incident came on the heels of a similiar matter on the program El Pistelero, on the Chicago station Que Buena 105.1 FM. After receiving word that the host and callers had made frequently discriminatory and violent remarks about homosexuals, spokesmen from GLAAD and other gay rights organizations, in tandem with broadcasters at the station, took to the airwaves on National Coming Out Day to present a show tackling gay issues. Sanchez touted the event as a success but others involved were slightly less optimistic.

"They apologized and said they didn't mean to offend anyone," said noted Hispanic radio producer Tania Unzueta, who was on hand at the event. "But at the same time, I think they were scared. They've gotten into trouble before and were beginning to feel the pressure, so I don't know how honest they were."

Unzueta also pointed out that foreign language media outlets often fall under the radar of Federal Communications Commission regulation. "If there is something on local TV or radio that is offensive, we should call the local television or radio stations, or call GLAAD," she said. "Because if the government isn't going to do anything regulate the media, then maybe we have to."

Brian Theobald is a Long Island-based freelance journalist. His work has also appeared in Film Forward, Look Listen Play, Times Beacon Record Newspapers and Talk of New York, among others.