Jorge Valdivia created a safe space for LGBT Latino youth through public radio.
by Jason Lederman
Jorge Valdivia, 38, never planned on making a career in public radio – when asked how he got into the field, he replies, “Accidentally.” More than 20 years after his first foray into the Chicago public radio scene, he has helped to create mental and physical places for LGBT Latino teens to become comfortable with themselves. In 2002, Jorge founded Homofrecuencia, the first-ever radio program exclusively by and for Latino LGBT teenagers, on Radio Arte, a public radio station owned by the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA), where he’s currently the performing arts director. Two years later, he created the “Queer Prom,” the first prom exclusively for Latino LGBT teens. Homofrecuencia airs on Radio Arte, 90.5 FM, on Monday nights at 6 p.m.
The Medill Equal Media Project spoke with Valdivia about how public radio and other media can bring communities of LGBT Latino teens together. Excerpts:
MEDILL EQUAL MEDIA PROJECT: WHERE DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME “HOMOFRECUENCIA”?
Jorge Valdivia: A group of students at Radio Arte & I were having these ongoing conversations about putting together this [queer] radio show, and we had everything but the name. I blurted out, “What about Homofrecuencia?” and the room went silent. I remember one of the students, Ivan, who now lives in Mexico City, he said, “Ay, Jorge Valdivia, no puedo creer que – I can’t believe you just said that, but I love it.” He said, “Es como un cubetazo de agua fría – It’s like a bucket of ice cold water that you just splashed all over me.” And that’s when we decided that was it. It gets the point across perfectly and it’s unapologetic, it’s just in your face.
HOW DID RADIO ARTE AND NMMA REACT TO YOU TELLING THEM YOU WANTED TO DO THIS SHOW?
I had tried doing the radio show two years earlier, and the general manager back then said no. She said I could do a radio show that was open to LGBT issues, but not exclusively LGBT. [Later], when we had eight or nine students who were coming out, I thought to myself, “This is wrong for us not to have a radio show. We’re a community broadcasting station, and our programming should reflect our community.” I started having meetings with students without even asking. I just felt like I didn’t have to ask permission anymore. When you feel something is right you shouldn’t have to ask permission, you just do it. At that point, it had gained so much momentum that she really couldn’t do anything about it. And it was the right thing to do. The museum was very supportive.
HOMOFRECUENCIA HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT IN THE ADVOCATE, THE CHICAGO READER, AND THECHICAGO TRIBUNE. WITH ALL THIS MEDIA COVERAGE, DID HOMOFRECUENCIA INCREASE THE NUMBER OF KIDS WHO REACHED OUT TO YOU? OR THE NUMBER OF PARENTS WHO REACHED OUT TO ASK HOW TO TALK TO THEIR KIDS ABOUT SEX?
Yes, both. Some things you do with a strategic plan and some things you do with your heart. It was so important for me to not allow another Maria, another José, to not know how to get information on coming out, on HIV services. When all these phone calls started coming in, it was overwhelming because we were suddenly faced with these situations that we just didn’t imagine and we didn’t know how to answer. Luckily, we came up with this resource guide, and we were learning as we went along. I remember this one listener, Juan, who would listen to us from Little Village. He used to listen with earphones because he wasn’t out to his parents, but he said it was important to him to be connected somehow to the gay and lesbian community. I was reminded of my 16-year-old [self], struggling to come out, and I knew we had done the right thing.
TWO YEARS AFTER YOU FOUNDED HOMOFRECUENCIA YOU HELPED TO CREATE QUEER PROM. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR LGBT LATINO YOUTHS TO HAVE THEIR OWN PROM?
It’s about creating that safe space that allows you to just fully embrace, in that one space, where you are then and there, here and now. To be able to say, “I’m Latino, I’m gay, I’m lesbian, I’m transgender, this is me, this is who I am,” and not having to exist or embrace our identities in silos, like “I’m Latino here and I’m proud of it, and I’m lesbian or bisexual here, and I have to keep my worlds apart.” Queer Prom is a celebration of both. It’s just about celebrating who you are.
IN 2009, YOU WERE INDUCTED INTO THE CHICAGO GAY & LESBIAN HALL OF FAME. THAT’S QUITE AN HONOR – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU AND HOW DOES IT ADVANCE THE WORK YOU DO?
It means a lot. Homofrecuencia is my baby, but it’s an idea that came to fruition and an idea that I knew in my heart was the right thing to do, even though I was told “no” initially. Being recognized was nice, but [being] able to look back and know we made a difference in those peoples’ lives…that, to me, was a lot more important than the award.
WHAT HAVE YOU PERSONALLY SEEN AS A DIRECT INFLUENCE OF HOMOFRECUENCIA AND QUEER PROM?
I think that Homofrecuencia definitely sparked a conversation, and we made LGBT media reevaluate the way they address Latinos in the stories they tell. We did the same with Latino media, having them reassess the way they address LGBT issues. What we saw was this movement where, years later, you start seeing the immigration reform rallies happen, and an LGBT contingent march alongside. The conversation when Homofrecuencia started was “We’re Latinos, we’re immigrants, we’re queer, we’re not one or the other, we’re both, and it’s important for you as Latinos to see how the LGBT community is part of the Latino community.” That’s a conversation that wasn’t happening back then.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR GAY YOUTHS ON COMING OUT OR HOW TO LIVE AS A GAY YOUTH IN CHICAGO? OR ANY ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO YOUR 17-YEAR-OLD SELF RIGHT BEFORE HE CAME OUT?
Sometimes the outcome we imagine is different from the reality we endure, and that’s something I realized years after I came out. What prevented me from coming out really was just this fear of the unknown. I imagined things [would be] a lot worse. My story is unique and it’s not, because there are people, other Latinos, who did not have issues coming out on the South Side of Chicago. Just be true to yourself. Somebody recently said this: the strongest form of activism that you can do in life is to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. Then you put a face to it, and your mother, your father, your aunts, uncles, cousins, you make them realize that LGBT issues is something that affects someone that they love.