By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
As an organization, GLAAD tries to let no area of the media escape its watch. During the past several years it has increased both its monitoring and its dialogue with the growing Spanish-language media through a unit focusing on people of color.
“One of GLAAD’s strategic plan goals emphasized outreach to communities of color,” said Mónica Taher, project director of the People of Color Media Program, launched in 2003.
“Spanish-language media is the second-largest in the country,” she said. “We knew that if we wanted to be effective and improve the TV representations of all LGBT people in this country, we also needed to work hand in hand with Spanish-language media professionals.”
This includes not just reacting to characterizations and stories GLAAD finds offensive but also serving as a resource for the networks, which can call upon Ms. Taher and her staff when they have questions about the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.
“At the end of the day we and all companies have to make the final decision,” said Ramon Escobar, senior executive VP of entertainment programming for Spanish-language broadcasting company Telemundo. “But I’m pleased we have a good relationship with GLAAD. Their approach is professional. It is not full of demands and threats. It’s an offer of ideas and suggestions and discussion. It’s the right approach.”
GLAAD’s People of Color Media Program is not limited to Spanish-language media. Rather, it is designed to focus on ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation for several groups, including Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander and people of African descent. The unit, which has a staff of four led by Ms. Taher, also monitors images of Native Americans and Muslims.
However, cultural differences and the size of the Spanish-language media pose special challenges.
“There is a religious and cultural bias [against homosexuality] that Latinos are brought up with, particularly those who come to the United States from other countries,” Mr. Escobar said. “Some of the bias is intrinsic, an intrinsic taboo tied with the concept of machismo.”
Ms. Taher said another factor that makes GLAAD’s work more difficult is that much of the Spanish-language programming is produced outside the U.S., in countries where levels of tolerance may be lagging behind.
“About 70 percent of Univision’s programming comes from Televisa,” she said. Univision is the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S. “Televisa is based in Mexico City. These images are produced in Mexico.”
GLAAD can cross borders. The organization sent a contingent to Mexico City in April 2005 to meet with Televisa executives. As a result, GLAAD will conduct media training with Televisa’s news and entertainment divisions and will hold creative content meetings with producers of telenovelas, the hyper-popular Spanish-language melodramas that are the No. 1 genre among Latino TV viewers.
The dialogue with Televisa is just one of many initiatives the People of Color unit has handled since its inception. Another success story involves Telemundo. GLAAD is working with the producers and writers of the prime-time novela “La Tormenta” to answer questions and provide information to aid in the depiction of a transsexual character.
Because of this, Mr. Escobar said, “I think Telemundo has been a pioneer in employing story lines that GLAAD has been proud of.”
Overall, Ms. Taher said, GLAAD is buoyed by the progress made with Spanish-language media. “We have seen a shift” in the way the producers and networks approach programming with LGBT characters, she said.