In July, Josephine Ochoa, also known as Jossie, posted a photograph on Instagram. In it, the 24-year-old model is kissing her girlfriend of over three years, Sandra. Sandra had appeared in the social media star's posts before -- but had never formally been introduced to Ochoa's over 300,000 Instagram followers as her partner. Ochoa, after years of observing some speculation and confusion in the comments of her various feeds, decided it was finally time to come out.
"Your energy is irreplaceable! Love you bebita. 3 years & counting," the caption read.
Initially, "80 percent" of Ochoa's fans -- who tend to be young and Hispanic -- responded with love and enthusiasm, Ochoa estimated. However, a social media post from Univision -- one of the most prominent American Spanish-language television stations -- changed the conversation.
The network's tweet of the photo went viral, which dramatically expanded the news of Ochoa's coming-out. It also exposed her to a vitriol she hadn't experienced before. A flood of antigay hatred and cyberbullying filled Ochoa's feed, from users who hurled slurs at the former beauty queen and accused her of opportunism.
"They were super religious," Ochoa recounted of the trolls, before listing their nasty remarks: "I'm going to hell. I'm going to burn. I'm a disgrace to human nature. I'm an attention seeker. Everything. Die."
Ochoa was dismayed by the hatred. However, the experience also galvanized her to take action against homophobia. A golden opportunity presented itself. Univision had worked with Ochoa before, when she placed runner-up in the network's 2014 beauty pageant and reality show, Nuestra Belleza Latina, or Our Latin Beauty. Previously, Ochoa was crowned Miss Guatemala U.S.
A morning show on the network, Despierta America, offered to interview Ochoa after the photograph with her girlfriend went viral. In this format, she believed she could have space to tell her story and also help move the needle for gay representation in the Latin world. "I thought it would be a great way to advocate [LGBT rights] to our Hispanic community," Ochoa said.
For Ochoa, there had been no real blueprint to achieve this goal. There were few role models -- out Hispanic female celebrities, particularly from the pageant scene -- that Ochoa could follow. (Patricia Velasquez, a lesbian actress and model, is one of the few notable exceptions.) But Ochoa was determined to show the world that, regardless of what the trolls said about the photograph of her and her girlfriend, "this is more than just a kiss. This is a relationship. This is like a union, like any other heterosexual partner would have."
Ochoa consulted with her management, and the team decided that the interview should be made up of three segments: Ochoa's discussion of her sexuality, her introduction of her girlfriend, and a conversation about the couple's nonprofit organization, Mision Guatemala, which provides resources to disadvantaged children in Guatemala.
The promotion of the nonprofit was particularly important to Ochoa. The model wanted to put forward a positive representation of LGBT people. She hoped the discussion of good works would dispel stereotypes of her community and help change hearts and minds.
And she succeeded. The interview aired as planned, and a television audience heard Ochoa, saw her girlfriend, and learned about Mision Guatemala.
However, soon after, the monsters of the online world once again reared their heads. Following the interview's airing, Univision's digital team divided the episode into shorter segments, which separated the news of Ochoa's coming-out from the longer, more comprehensive discussion that she had hoped to send out into the world. The effect, said Ochoa, was to sensationalize her coming-out story.
"They made it into a scandal, and so no one took it seriously," said Ochoa, who had not known the footage would be spliced under click-bait headlines. These included "Exclusive: Josephine Ochoa Reveals Why She Decided to Make Her Homosexuality Public" and,"The Moment When Josephine Ochoa 'Forgot' Her Romance With Participant of Nuestra Belleza Latina."
"That's why I'm so sad," said Ochoa. "This is not to be a scandal. This is to be an important message. It was a moment for me, not a scandal."
When reached for comment, Univision provided the following statement:
Diversity and inclusion are core to Univision's mission of informing and empowering its audience. As a former contestant on our popular nationally-televised show Nuestra Belleza Latina, Josephine Ochoa is considered a member of our extended Univision family. We're proud of all her accomplishments and celebrate how she has shared her personal story with our audience.
Regardless, the fallout from Ochoa's experience is a lesson in why any network must be sensitive in how it disseminates the coming-out stories of queer people -- particularly those from marginalized communities who still struggle for visibility. The coming-out clip kicked the hornet's nest. Ugly, hateful, and clearly unenlightened remarks filled social media channels in response to Ochoa's interview:
"Jossie why did you change your gender, has no one ever made love to you with rage and made you feel like a real woman? Why all of a sudden did you begin to want to suck *** instead of ***," wrote Noel.
"If she comes to San Marcos we will chase her, her gifts, and her d*ke out with fire and gasoline. We will not permit for her to contaminate our children with her abominations and mental unrest," wrote Isaiah, in response to the news of Ochoa's humanitarian trips to Guatemala.
"What is the point of sharing this? If people's opinions will stay the same? She will not change anything," wrote Andy.
"Jossie why did you compete in NBL [Our Latin Beauty], which represents the Latin woman not the lesbian woman? You're so beautiful at least get yourself a pretty woman like you, your partner looks like a man. Didn't you dislike men?" wrote Lourdes.
"What a disappointment for our Guatemala. I was one of your fans. Maybe there were many young girls who wanted to be like you. But with these dike-nesses (sorry I don't know if there's a word) and abominations you are contaminating our world and our country. May God damn you and all of your depraved supporters straight to the devil. God created you as a woman and you will need to face Him as one," wrote Isaiah.
Afterward, Ochoa was disappointed by the obfuscation of her message. She was also disheartened by the ongoing cyberbullying, which she finds is rooted in harmful myths and stereotypes that she had hoped to upend with Univision's assistance.
"Because a lot of these people know me from a pageant world, they never expected me to even say something like this, because I am known to be a girly girl and known to be very feminine," Ochoa said. "They just have a stereotype of what a lesbian is -- which I hate that they stereotype you, because we come in all sizes and colors and that doesn't mean anything."
However, Ochoa also finds "strength" in the positive responses she's received from younger people, especially LGBT youth, on social media.
"I've had a lot of good feedback from young teens -- from gay boys to gay girls to people that just love the fact that we're being strong about it, even though there's a lot of backlash," said Ochoa. "So I think it's empowering in many ways."
Ochoa is not certain what the future will bring. She continues to model, post photos on Instagram with her partner, and pursue her lifesaving work with Mision Guatamela. But she also hopes to partner with LGBT organizations to continue to fight ignorance and be a role model for others. And in a climate where LGBT Latina girls have one of the highest suicide risks among all racial groups, according to a 2014 report, it is imperative to have as many role models -- and as much responsible reporting -- as possible.
And for those scared LGBT youth, Ochoa has a message.
"It's all about being yourself and loving yourself -- being so confident with who you are that you'll find that strength to overcome all criticism," Ochoa said. "It takes a lot to come out and say, 'This is who I am,' without being touched."
"It all starts with yourself and accepting who you are and loving who you are."