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, 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 than sitting at a round table, talking and seeing where the discussion lead us. As a blogger and journalist focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, I am concerned with the approach different media have toward members and stories of my community. Mainstream media in Mexico are increasingly including LGBT content in positive ways. Some examples are AnimalPoltico.com, Chilango magazine, CNNMéxico.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 entertainment, politics and socialites) 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.
Brian Pacheco and me. Image: Johnny Carmona.
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 others' 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 this 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 a good 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 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 agreed on 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 that are 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 is 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.