Former Dallasite helps form Brownsville PFLAG chapter

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Brownsville became the 17th city in Texas with a Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays chapter on Monday, Jan. 3 when about 35 people attended the new group’s first meeting.

Brownsville City Commissioner Melissa Zamora was among those attending. She said she was there as an ally, invited by the group’s president, Yolanda Speece.

“The communication was amazing. There was lots of talk about our culture and the stigma gays and lesbians face,” Zamora said. “There was a high school girl who was there to support her two lesbian mothers. A mom was there to support her transgender child.”

She said the meeting was well organized, providing good reciprocal support, and was attended by people from around the county — and even from South Padre Island.

Zamora said she recently became more aware of LGBT issues when she read a story by a high school student describing his struggle.

“This is a very Hispanic community,” Zamora said, “and it’s something you don’t talk about in the Hispanic community.”

Zamora said she hopes to find a co-sponsor to put an item on the city agenda introducing the group to the community.

Speece said she decided to found the group because she always had gay friends. She found that along the border and the coast, the closest groups were in El Paso and Corpus Christi and she knew there was a need locally.

“I would hear people say things,” Speece said. “I’d take it in and I didn’t know how to respond. But there’s something wrong with using God to justify their hate.”

Speece said that over the past two years there have been four murders of gay men in Cameron County. One, Barry Horn, was executive director of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art.

The trial of the 19-year-old accused of Horn’s murder is set to begin in February. And Speece said she is sure defense attorneys are planning a “blame the victim” strategy.

“This needs to stop, Speece said. “We need to start educating the community, so I decided it’s time.”

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, who helped the Dallas and Fort Worth chapters incorporate in the early 1990s, is involved in the new group’s formation. He said he was concerned that clashing personalities could kill the effort to organize and remembered similar concerns when P-FLAG formed in Dallas.

Wightman-Cervantes credited Dan and Pat Stone, two of the organizers of the Dallas group, with focusing on communication between parents with gay and lesbian children and a variety of allies when the group started.

Speece was also concerned about that, she said, and was very nervous as she began the meeting. But as people began talking to each other, she knew the new group was already working well. They were all there for one reason.

“Parents are supposed to protect their children,” she said.

P-FLAG Brownsville meets the first Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. All Souls UU Church, 124 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville. 956-433-3524.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Dear Gaby

Local Telemundo host Gabriela Natale opens eyes by shining a spotlight to the gay Latino community

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer  lopez@dallasvoice.com

Gabriela Natale
MADE FOR TV | Natale sees the Latino community in a state of transformation, opening up to LGBT issues. She hopes ‘SuperLatina’ is contributing to that change.

Gabriela Natale (Gaby for short) has a voice beyond her 32 years. She talks spiritedly and quickly with youthful enthusiasm, but there’s wisdom in her tone. Natale talks like she knows something others don’t.

“I hope to create understanding bridges because we as human beings have so much more in common with each other,” she says.

Natale hosts SuperLatina, a Spanish-language talk show on Telemundo that airs Wednesday mornings. SuperLatina heralds a new type of voice in the Latino community; Natale cites Ellen as an influence, but Tyra Banks has been a specific inspiration for her.

“I’m inspired by Oprah and Ellen but I love how Tyra will touch on delicate topics in African-American culture that aren’t talked about out loud,” she says.” “We have those same problems in the Hispanic community.”

With her show, Natale has also burst open the door of LGBT topics within the Latino community — a decision that has led to discomfort among some. With a culture mostly steeped in Catholic tradition, Latinos can be uneasy talking about gay issues, and Natale says Spanish language television reflects that —there is relatively little coverage of LGBT topics. But when SuperLatina had a show on Latino gay youth, Natale met with a surprising response.

“When I heard about the suicide rate for gay teens, I wanted to talk about how they felt,” she says. “It’s hard to be a minority within a minority. I got messages on Facebook, people had seen the show on YouTube and I got so many thank yous. The audience was very positive about it. This was probably some people’s first exposure to the LGBT community.”

Natale doesn’t approach such topics with ulterior motives. SuperLatina isn’t about controversy — she’s committed to making the show a positive tool. Every episode, however, doesn’t have a heavy inspirational message: Some are heartwarming stories of giving youth an educational scholarship or granting someone’s wish to meet a star … and of course, what would a talk show be without makeovers?

But she does put in the effort to make her LGBT-related episodes mean something to both the audience and the community.

“I don’t want circus topics,” she says. “When I reached out to people for my same-sex parents episode, I took more time on that and wanted to establish trust with them. I don’t want anyone to be on my show in fear or as if they are in the hot seat. I don’t want them to be awkward.”

In that episode, she discussed parenting with both male and female couples as well as a specialist on how to approach the subject with children. She says that these families were happy to share this episode with their families, but she also knows that the mindset in the Latino community will be accepted slowly. However, she’s found that Latino families are more accepting than most might think.

“It comes from the heart but I think that people choose to know reality,” she says.

Originally from Argentina, where she graduated with a degree in journalism, Natale moved to Washington, D.C., in 2003 after working for free at a political marketing conference. Following a stint as a news anchor at Univision, she moved on to Telemundo to develop SuperLatina.
But North Texans audiences didn’t get to know Natale until last August, when production on her show moved to the Fort Worth office and it began to air locally.

The Emmy nominee didn’t have a particular go-to person for her interest in the gay community — no gay friend who suffered discrimination that sparked her activism. Instead, she felt obliged to reach out after seeing how Latinos are demographically classified.

“I think it’s a contradiction as a minority to turn your back on another minority,” she says. ”I consider myself a voice for my community and I want to be a stronger voice for positive change.”

Natale sees the shift of thinking in the new generations of Latinos — especially when it comes to the gay community. She references two events over the last year that were crucial to opening minds and embracing the community and both involved music superstars.

“First, there was Ricky Martin coming out, “ she says. “Then there was the Mexican singer Paquita la del Barrio statement in March “that she would prefer a child die on the streets rather than be adopted by a gay couple. “

GLAAD immediately called for an apology and la del Barrio has worked to repair her image by giving a concert at a gay club outside Mexico City. (Interestingly, she recanted not just because of GLAAD’s demand but because of outrage in the Mexican community at large.) Add to it Martin’s eloquent coming out letter on his website and the Latino community could be growing into a more accepting culture respecting gay issues.

“I think there is this shift of shame in the culture,” she says. “People are more proud to speak Spanish and embrace their heritage. But also, I humbly feel part of the transformation in the community is awareness, participation and even education. Right now is a special moment.”

SuperLatina airs on Telemundo on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.

TelemundoDallas.com/SuperLatina.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens