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Telemundo host had 'no idea' of gay slur

Miami-based talk-show host Luisa Fernanda was fired for making an unintended slur against gay men

By CASEY WOODS, cwoods@miamiherald.com

But with Spanish-language media under increased scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission, a Miami talk show has sharpened that fuzzy line to zero tolerance. Telemundo TV personality Luisa Fernanda, the Mexican host of the popular show Cotorreando (``Chattering''), was fired after she made an unintended slur against gays.

Fernanda used the Cuban word for grouper, cherna, which for Cubans has another meaning: a pejorative term for a gay man.

Other networks also have taken action against on-air personalities recently. But in Fernanda's case, she had no clue the word she was uttering is an insult in Cuban Spanish; several local gay community activists are defending her.

Fernanda was dissecting the latest sex videotape scandal last month with co-host Mauricio Zeilic when she asked him if he would back her if she was attacked, and he said yes.

Fernanda then joked that if they were attacked by the feared Central American gang the ''Mara Salvatrucha'' -- Salvatrucha is Central American slang that includes the word trucha, or ''trout'' -- they could send in a different gang: the ``Grouper of Hialeah.''

Telemundo executives fired Fernanda on June 22, the next day, saying her conduct was ''inconsistent'' with the company's culture and its respect for diversity.

Her dismissal marks the first time a national Spanish-language radio or TV personality has been fired for making an allegedly homophobic remark, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD.

''For me, it was just an association of words, comparing a fish to a fish,'' said Fernanda, 36. ``I had no idea it was an offensive word. I would be incapable of being homophobic.''

Fernanda's firing illustrates the evolving relationship between Spanish-language media and the U.S. gay and lesbian community. While applauding Telemundo's ''zero tolerance'' policy, gay advocates said they seem puzzled that the network would punish Fernanda.

Fernanda presented one of the key awards at GLAAD's annual South Florida event in May and has openly advocated for the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

''The only mistake she made was using the wrong word at the wrong time,'' said Ron Brenesky, vice president of the Unity Coalition, a local Latino gay civil-rights group.

On Sunday, coalition members will declare Fernanda ''queen'' for a day of the gay and lesbian community at the local drag establishment Club Azucar.

Alfredo Richard, Telemundo's vice president of corporate communications, said the decision to fire Fernanda was a complex one.

''It's unfortunate when someone like Luisa, who has done a great job . . ., doesn't stick to what we think is the right kind of behavior that we promote within the company culture,'' he said. ``It's part of the responsibility of talent to the community to know these things.''

Networks that have taken previous action against on-air personalities apparently have not gone so far as to fire for an unintended offense.

Univisión radio suspended DJ Luis Jiménez in May after he aired a parody song called Las Patas, which literally translated means The Ducks but in slang can be offensive to lesbians.

Both Univisión and Telemundo instituted diversity training for their staffs as they try to rein in the sometimes-raunchy language.

''What Telemundo did really sets a precedent in Spanish-language media outlets and raises the bar in terms of finally respecting diversity,'' said GLAAD's Monica Taher. ``Spanish-language media talent, regardless of the country they come from, will have to familiarize themselves with pejoratives that insult not just gays and lesbians, but anyone.''

But Taher had reservations about Fernanda's firing. ''We actually watched the clip, and the context wasn't to insult gays and lesbians,'' she said.

Many of Fernanda's allies in the gay community are distressed.

''It's not fair what they did to her,'' said Alexis Fernandez, also known as the Club Azucar cabaret performer Marytrini.

Fernanda, however, refuses to criticize Telemundo.

''They did what they had to do,'' she said. ``I made a mistake . . . this has been a difficult lesson.''

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Persistence True Dream


Martin Luther Had a dream
Barack Obama different not he
Unite start thee one for us to be
Together bond make strength
Land of promise mountain climb
Overcome begun job to be done
Race not damage forgive all free
Change direction drive within
Peace fights not love endures
Apart fall in fail embraces divide
Stand to lead Americans united
Hear listen ear different we are
See heart feel how same are soul
Red all blood we do bleed heal
Believe come the dream beats
Life and earth a time in need we
World compassion help our part do
Forget not remember love binds all
Tomorrow better day please pray


-Ronald Sorenson

June 3, 2008

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