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Homofrecuencia marks a decade in Latino LGBTQ radio
by Stephen Sonneveld
2012-09-05

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"We are a cry of liberty, strength and willpower—just and necessary. We are Homofrecuencia."

Ten years ago, that phrase emanated from a publicly funded radio station in Pilsen and heralded an important chapter in Chicago's queer history as well as a neighborhood's transformation.

Homofrecuencia was America's first Spanish-language radio program focusing on LGBT issues, but show creator Jorge Valdivia was initially met with resistance from the station. As Radio Arte's then-27-year-old assistant general manager, and someone the gay and lesbian youth at the station confided in, Valdivia would not be deterred.

Together, they spent months conceptualizing the program, which Valdivia boldly christened Homofrecuencia ("Homofrequency"). He told Windy City Times, "Deep inside, we were all petrified of coming out on the air, [which] was unheard of in our community, especially in Spanish language media and even more so at a radio station with windows in the studios. But that's exactly what we did on August 12th, 2002, at 9PM."

Tania Unzueta, a former producer and host of the program from 2003-2006, said, "For me, it was one of the only spaces where we could talk about gay history in Spanish, [and] about those intersections of being Latino, being an immigrant and being queer."

Unzueta was one of WRTE's student workers when Homofrecuencia first aired. When she came out and began to recognize herself as part of the LGBT community, she soon joined the production.

"I remember doing pieces on the importance of Stonewall and what immigration reform meant for people who are HIV-positive," she said. "Both as a producer and as a listener, for me, it was a place where we could expose some of those big LGBT issues, but also think about how they specifically affected the Latino community."

The response from young listeners was immediate. Valdivia remembered a student from another show at the station who tearfully confided his thanks for broadcasting the program. "He insisted that there was plenty of reason for being grateful," Unzueta said. "He said it made him feel connected to the gay community and that it was extremely hard to feel connected living on the South Side of Chicago. He went on to tell me that he had just come out and that his parents were not as accepting as he had hoped. I handed him a list of resources of places to call if he needed. That moment happened for a reason. It reminded me why we started doing Homofrecuencia to begin with: to help Latino youth have a sense of belonging, to give them a sense of community."

Although Homofrecuencia was created to be safe place, those windows exposing the producers caused some anxiety, and there was initially fear of protests against the program. What happened next in Pilsen, no one could have predicted.

According to Valdivia, the radio show "paved the way for an openly queer identity in Pilsen [and] marked the beginning of a sense of community for LGBTQ Latinos in Pilsen and Little Village. Homofrecuencia, in many ways, has helped bridge two communities. It's helped create a safe space where we can embrace being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer AND Latino."

Besides reaching their target audience, producers were surprised to find that straight listeners didn't reach for the dial. Valdivia recalled one in particular, Israel, who listened with his son because he wanted him "to grow up accepting and informed."

In 2004, Unzueta joined Valdivia and other Homofrecuencia producers to create "Queer Prom." She had seen other LGBT proms, but not one specific to Latinos. Homofrecuencia and Radio Arte have made it an annual affair, where hundreds of young LGBT couples now share their special night at Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art.

"For the past two years we've had over 250 youth. Not including volunteers and community members who come to support," said current Homofrecuencia producer Emmanuel Garcia. "It has grown tremendously."

This year, the event was held May 11, and advertisements proudly proclaimed it as a "space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth and their allies to celebrate fearlessly and unapologetically who they are, our communities and prom."

When RadioArte.org first began broadcasting Homofrecuencia, the small station with the 14-mile radio signal range tracked 40,000 global listeners a month, from South America to Asia. Garcia stated, "We've interviewed folks in different parts of Latin America—including Venezuela, which was the first Latin American country to marry a same-sex couple."

As for creating the show week in and week out, "We have an editorial meeting on Wednesday to talk about how the Monday show is coming along and where everyone is with their assignment [segments]. Most of the pieces are pre-recorded and go through a rigorous editing process."

Sometimes those segments become stories themselves.

Nancy Hernandez, a former member of the show, used Homofrecuencia as the means to come out to her parents. Valdivia remembered she "pre-recorded what she wanted to tell them and gave it to us to play on cue. She called us like we had planned and we played her story. It was one of the best coming out stories ever."

Tania Unzueta's mother used to pick her up from the studio, and was able to peer into those studio windows and watch her daughter produce the program. "I remember her saying to me once, 'Just don't let them convince you.' And I know that what she was referring to was don't let them convince you of homosexuality," she laughed.

"We talked about that since, and talked through a lot of the misconceptions that she had. Actually, my mom became a listener at some point because her and I didn't really talk about my LGBT identity. But the radio show became our way of her listening to the stories and her learning about LGBT history without me even realizing she was doing it at the time."

Valdivia is proud Homofrecuencia "helped bring visibility to the vibrant, Latino queer community." Before long, the FM signal will be gone, and the show will continue in digital formats.

A lot has changed in 10 years.

Homofrecuencia broadcasts on 90.5 FM Radio Arte and online at www.radioarte.org on Mondays at 6 p.m.


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