After his talk show was canceled in 1996, Charles Perez segued into a successful career as a news broadcaster. Working as a weekday anchor for Miami's top-rated news broadcast, the openly gay 46-year-old says he was told by his bosses in March that he was a bit "too anchor-like." But later that month -- after an ugly breakup with his ex-boyfriend became blog fodder and a private e-mail to his therapist about gender identity issues was sent to everyone in Perez's address book, allegedly by the ex -- Perez says his boss, himself a gay man, told him he was "too soft" and that he and his female co-anchor acted "like girlfriends" on the air.
Perez was demoted to weekend anchor in July, and filed a discrimination suit weeks later. Days after the suit was brought, Perez was fired from his job.
In this exclusive interview, Perez pulls no punches on his termination, his future, and the ugly side of the news business.
Advocate.com:Clearly once you filed the suit, there was tension. But when you were let go on Thursday, was that a surprise?Charles Perez: I felt it in my gut, but it wasn’t a surprise.
What’s funny is that the station's had an enormous amount of phone calls and e-mails from amazing viewers who have been super supportive, but I think to the station, it makes it feel like they’re pushed up against a wall. They have a very shallow view of the viewer. When they took me off of the anchor desk, their decision was to say nothing, to do nothing, and to act as if I had never been there. They told that to my co-anchor after very publicly promoting me and running promos for a year. It had a whole passing of the baton, everything. Their theory was that viewers would forget that you were ever there after a few weeks, anyway. So I believe they fired me thinking, You know what? It’s going to create hell for a couple weeks, and then the viewers will forget.
Do you think your viewers really care about you being gay, about your private life in general?About 99% of the viewers don’t, at least in terms of phone calls and e-mails I’ve received and the people who come up to me on the street. I was in an elevator the other day and some old Latino guy came up to me -- could barely speak English and was glad I could respond to him in Spanish; he was probably about 70 years old -- he said, “We support you!” But I don’t think this is about the viewer. This is about advertising dollars and this is about the tendency in America to homogenize the product so that it is the least objectionable product they can put out there. That’s why they don’t care if they have gay reporters or gay producers, but if you’re the main anchor of the station, just as if you’re the main person on a talk show, they’re selling the advertising dollars on your face, and I don’t know if something happened there or not, but something smelled. As a reporter I’ve learned that when something smells, it means that something is rotten. I don’t know if an advertiser called and said, “You know what, guys, I’ve got a $10 million advertising budget, but I don’t like that you’ve got that homo sitting on the desk.”
I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out in discovery when we actually have the hearing, but something changed. It was sudden, and it was a shift that not only I felt, but my coworker felt just as strongly. She thought it might be for other reasons because I have a gay news director. It was hard for her to contemplate that it would be for my sexuality, but what she wasn’t thinking was one step beyond that, which is the team of men sitting above the news director around a table who are telling him what to do.