Smooches between people of the same sex on Spanish-language telenovelas — like the recent make out sesh between Kate Del Castillo and Cristina Urgel on Telemundo's La Reina del Sur — aren't all that common on Spanish soaps. But Jarrett Barrios, the Cuban-American President of GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) says there's reason to be optimistic about the growing number of portrayals of LGBT people on Spanish-language soaps.
"I would say they’re getting better," said Barrios when asked if he feels that telenovelas are reluctant to introduce gay characters. "They've been slow to adapt, but this past year we’ve seen a couple of really good advances on a couple of telenovelas."
Barrios, who was the first Latino and openly gay man to serve in the state senate in Massachusetts — and was very involved in the marriage equality fight in Massachusetts before becoming the President of GLAAD — says GLAAD has been working with Spanish-language networks for years to bring more gay characters to the small screen.
"We’ve worked on a number of shows over the years," he explains. "We were able to get Univision to successfully get their first gay character on a telenovela a few years ago and we continue to work with Telemundo and Univision in the development of certain telenovelas," he explains.
Monica Trasandes, the director of Spanish-language Media at GLAAD, agrees with Barrios that telenovelas are increasingly featuring gay characters. Trasandes says over the last few years, there have been several gay characters on Spanish-language soaps. "In 2009, we saw quite a few. We saw two gay characters on a telenovela called Niños Ricos, Pobres Padres, which was set in a prep school in Colombia, and we saw a transgender character on Victorinos. There was a novela called Mas Sabe El Diablo, in which one of the protagonists was gay and the story followed the man coming to terms with his own orientation and the difficulties he had confronting his brother and his mother, who also did not accept him," says Trasandes. "It was quite an interesting story."
Barrios adds that being gay in the Latino community is increasingly becoming less taboo. "What we’re finding in our research at GLAAD, is that Latinos are as, or more, supportive of marriage equality. And it’s because Latinos understand the value of family and how important it is to have that family at the center of our culture," he says. "That doesn’t mean that social taboos are erased overnight — what it means is that Latinos are open to supporting the equality of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender friends, family, and neighbors."
One of the reasons for this, according to Barrios, is Ricky Martin. "The power of his coming out narrative, in coming out with pride — it’s been extraordinary," says Barrios. "And we’ve seen the conversation change in many respects, where you’ve now got an awareness, a face on the gay community in Latin America — and in Spanish language media — that you didn’t have before. A young gay person just coming out can cite him as an example, can look to his life and his success as something to hope for. There’s a hopefulness to his story that is very powerful, in particular to Latino GLBT’s."