Charles Perez returns to the South Florida public forum with a book titled Confessions of a Gay Anchorman, which is due out on February 1st. The word “exile” is mine. Perez is too positive and upbeat to ever use such a word to describe what happened to him, even though, from his point of view, he was forced out of a successful career in order to have the freedom to live his life as he wishes. The word “exile” seems appropriate. In addition, we are talking about the bigoted Florida laws which prohibited Perez from marrying another man and adopting a child—the laws that forced him to temporarily move to another state to continue living his life in freedom.
I remember watching The Charles Perez Show, a nationally syndicated talk show about 15 years ago in New York. Of course, his good looks got my attention. But beyond that, he had a combination of charm, intelligence and insouciance that immediately made you feel at ease and engaged in the topic. Little did I know at the time that this was a gay man with the same issues of equality that many other gay men have had to struggle with. He was my local news anchorman on WABC’s Eyewitness News. If he wasn’t on, I’d switch to Sue Simmons.
Up until last year, he could be seen anchoring the evening news at Miami’s WPLG, getting recognition for some serious documentaries, including one on Hugo Chavez. He parted with WPLG, amid accusations of discrimination on the part of the station. The Peruvian American journalist and graduate of Florida State University is now a writer and has contributed to The Huffington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast and numerous other publications. In the following interview, Charles Perez talks to SFGN about his past, present, and future.
SFGN: First, we want to get your name right. You have stated that you intend to take the name of your husband, Rinehard. Should we call you Mr. Rinehard or are you keeping the Perez name professionally?
CP: Actually, I did take his name. We want our family to be the Rinehard family so that we all use and identify under the same last name. For me, it’s also been an act of love to take his name. Professionally, I will continue to use Perez but it is no longer my legal name.
SFGN: But Perez is not your birth name. What compelled you to change your name when you started your career as a broadcaster?
CP: Perez is my mother’s maiden name. Growing up, my sister and I used both my mother and father’s surname with our latin family or when in latin America, as it is common to do. When I launched my on-air career I wanted to do the same, and go by Charles Dabney Perez. However, The Tribune Company (which owned The Charles Perez Show) disagreed. They said, “The world already has Sally Jessy Rafael. We don’t need another three name talk show host.” So, they asked me to choose. Wanting to reflect both my Hispanic and Anglo heritage I went with Perez. I was named after my mother’s father, Carlos Perez, so it wasn’t much of a stretch.
SFGN: You have stated, “Kids are killing themselves because someone taught them that being gay is so bad, so shameful, that death is a preferable alternative. That has to end.” As you know, teen suicides have to do with self esteem and the importance our society places on appearance, especially in the gay community. What advice would you give to a gay teen who doesn’t look like Charles Perez and is beginning to understand what a disadvantage this is going to be in his life?
CP: I don’t think not looking like Charles Perez is a disadvantage. Frankly, I’m not always sure I want to look like Charles Perez! That said, I think the issue here is shame, and imposing shame on kids because they’re gay, regardless of what they look like. When you go to church and the preacher tells you that homosexuality is a sin or your dad goes-off at the dinner table about the homos down the block, our inner self begins to take on that shame and we begin to hide who we are. It’s not fair. No one would ever say, “Being blue eyed is a sin!” It just doesn’t happen. We need to make anti-gay rhetoric just as unacceptable and ridiculous sounding. There is no shame in being gay.
SFGN: I know it’s difficult for you to comment on your lawsuit against WPLG. But since it involves another gay man in management who (allegedly) acted against you, do you feel, as I often do, that gays discriminate against other gays more so than straights discriminate against gays? Is this something we should all be talking about more, and what can we do about it?
CP: I think the broader point you’re getting at is really about how we treat each other and about how shame manifests itself in the community and in the workplace. When we deny we’re gay or even allow people to continue to believe that we’re straight (especially when you’re a public person) we’re perpetuating the shame associated with being gay. Basically, we’re letting our own issues get on everyone else. Some straights may have issues with gay people but it is rarely as personal as it is for a gay person who is still in the closet. That person may often act out of fear. Often, that fear can be damaging, not only to him/her self, but to others. Bottom line, we need to get to the point where there is no fear and no shame attached to being gay.
As for WPLG, all I can say is I have satisfactorily resolved all my differences with the company.
SFGN: How do you answer the charge that you and your husband considered leaving Florida and that it would have been better to stay and fight for gay rights in the state?
CP: We got married in Westport, Connecticut in September 2009 and were planning on moving there at the time. Then there was a death in my family and a lot of drama that seemed to dictate that we stay in Florida, at least for the time being. So, we stayed. We were just so disillusioned with the lack of employment rights in the state of Florida and frustrated with the anti-gay adoption statute that we really wanted to go somewhere where we’d be embraced.
As it turned out, we went around Florida’s anti-gay adoption law and adopted our beautiful daughter in Kansas in July 2010. It meant jumping over a lot of hurdles, but we made it happen. The way it played out also felt so “meant-to-be.” She’s definitely a part of us.
Thankfully, Florida has finally come along on this issue and, hopefully, will never go backward. There are too many wonderful kids in this state who need good homes.
SFGN: Do you both intend to stay and live in Florida eventually?
CP: We don’t know where we’ll end up. For now - today - we’re here. Give me a call in a year!
SFGN: Does the recent court decision on the Martin Gill case–and the Florida Attorney General’s policy of not appealing that decision–make you regret you left the state in order to adopt?
CP: No. We did what we had to do at the time. We didn’t know when - or if - the appellate court would render a decision and which way they would decide. So, we went to a New Jersey attorney who’d walked down this road with other Florida couples and he told us, “Stay away from Florida. If you adopt, even in another state and take the child back to Florida, the Department of Children and Families will come take the child away from you.” It scared us. So, we decided to adopt and remain out of state until the adoption was finalized. Then, we came back to Florida and couldn’t get health insurance for her because gay adoption was against Florida statute. We eventually found our way around that restriction as well. At the time, we just didn’t know when or if the law would change and we weren’t willing to wait to find out. Today, I’m glad we didn’t. Not only do we have the perfect daughter, but I can only hope we were part of a chorus of people who helped push Florida into the future.
SFGN: Did you ever consider doing what Ricky Martin did, use a surrogate? It seems to have worked for him and he remains a resident of Florida. But, as you pointed out in your article on gay adoption in The Huffington Post, there are thousands of unwanted children who age out of the adoption process, never finding parents. Was that an important factor for you in your decision to adopt as opposed to surrogacy?
CP: We looked into surrogacy, but came to the conclusion that we really wanted to give a home to a child who needed a home. Who knows? We may entertain surrogacy down the road or choose to adopt another child.
SFGN: You have a book coming out, called “Confessions of a Gay Anchorman.” Why the word “confessions?” Can you give us a preview? What juicy confessions to you have to tell us about?
CP: The book was an amazingly cathartic experience for me. From the day I went on the air in 1994 through my last day on the anchor desk at Channel 10 in Miami, I was always trying to balance the “gay” me with the professional me. I don’t think straight people on camera have to do that. This is that story, and a call to end what I call the double standard that goes along with being gay on TV. Meaning, you can be gay if you’re the side-kick, the clown, the stereotype, the design guru. But, if you’re the main guy - the serious guy - the non-stereotypical guy - the anchorman... it’s a different story. The book is filled with cameos from Anderson Cooper to Sam Champion to Ricki Lake. Hopefully it’s not only a good read, but will open up a conversation that’ll push us a bit more into the future. I hope so.
SFGN: After your book comes out, where do you see yourself going professionally? Will you continue in broadcasting?
CP: I don’t see myself working as a regular reporter or as an anchor. I think those days are behind me. I can see myself as a commentator and primarily as a writer. This was my first book, but I’ve got a few more in me!
Additionally, I’m launching a campaign called the NoShame Project. It’s purpose is to inspire young gay men and women to stand up against shame where it begins - at home, at work, at school or at church. It’s no longer acceptable to shame kids about being gay and I want to be apart of erasing that shame.
To find out more about Charles Perez and to order his book, Confessions of a Gay Anchorman, go to www.charles-perez.com.