Protesters disrupt ‘El Gordo y La Flaca’ after host’s comments on transgender people

Lili Estefan and Raúl de Molina from "El Gordo y La Flaca" during a People en Español gala in Miami in December 2008.
Lili Estefan and Raúl de Molina from "El Gordo y La Flaca" during a People en Español gala in Miami in December 2008.

Raúl de Molina, Lili Estefan and the producers of  Univision’s gossip show “El Gordo y la Flaca” found themselves embroiled in the controversy surrounding the first transgender contestant in the Miss Universe pageant.

The problem got so heated that the show’s live broadcast from New York, hosted by De Molina, was interrupted on Friday by protesters unhappy with the program’s position on the issue of gender identity. They referred to “homophobic comments.”

De Molina denied the accusations and argued that theirs was the first television program in Spanish in the U.S. to incorporate a transgender actress into the cast. The actress, known as “Cachita,” died two years ago.

Both De Molina and Estefan opened their show on Monday with a special segment to show the videos that caused the controversy and clarify what their positions.

In question are the comments made by the hosts of “El Gordo y La Flaca” about a transgender woman who hanged herself last week. The woman dedicated a final message to the former Mexican Miss Universe Lupita Jones, director of the Mexican beauty pageant, who publicly criticized Miss Spain, Ángela Ponce, for being a transgender woman.

Ponce, a 27-year-old activist and model, has been the target of ridicule and insults since she was crowned Miss Spain because she was not born biologically female, like the other contestants.

“A woman born female will never be the same as a transgender, biologically they are not equal,” said Jones, who in 1991 rose as the first Miss Universe in her country. “I do not agree because it does not seem like a competition that is taking place under the same conditions.”

Soon after Jones’ comments, the transgender woman identified by Mexican authorities as Itzel Ávila Monreal, was found hanged at home, in a case that the police investigated as an apparent suicide.

However, an hour before taking her own life, she posted the video on Facebook with a direct message to the former Mexican Miss Universe, according to local media.

Posted by Itzel Avila on Thursday, October 4, 2018

“Thank God that you were born with a part between your legs that identified you with your personality. Unfortunately we do not,” said Avila in the recording. “Look very closely at what you are talking about because thanks to these thoughts, thanks to these opinions, many people commit suicide, many people feel rejected and humiliated, many people are suffering from the living hell of being in a body that does not belong to them.”

The alleged suicide was the subject of discussion in one of the recent programs of “El Gordo and La Flaca.”

According to the protesters in New York, mostly people from the LGBTQ collective, the “Gordo” De Molina referred to Ávila as “this man or lady, or whatever you call it.”

While the producers tried to remove the protesters so that they were not visible on the screen, De Molina incorporated them into the live broadcast, as shown by a YouTube video.

“Raúl, we are very upset, the community is very upset about the comments you made, especially to play along with Lupita Jones when we know that more than 70 percent of the trans community supports the program,” said another protester.

In front of the cameras and surrounded by critics, De Molina insisted that he had not used those words to refer to the deceased and even so, he apologized.

The Cuban-American presenter clarified that his intention was to explain that if “Lupita Jones made some comments and she thinks that [transgender women] should not be in Miss Universe, it is not a reason for anyone to kill herself over it.”

In his program on Monday, De Molina presented the video in question where it is confirmed that he referred to Avila as “Mr. or Mrs.”

“I did not know if I had to call them gentlemen or ladies,” explained the presenter. “I do not understand why they were so angry when the only thing we did was cover the news and say what was happening.”

Lili Estefan was also flogged during the protest, for erroneous comments about the change of names for people who make the transition to the opposite sex.

“How is it possible that La Flaca does not know about these basic laws?,” questioned one of the activists.

“I do not think Lily said it in a bad way,” De Molina responded to the cameras.

Estefan commented on Monday that she did not know the current laws. But after making inquiries, she said she discovered people can change their names on documents issued by the government after gender reassignment surgeries in some states.

“It is a transformation of the society that we are living, we are happy for them,” said Estefan on the show.

Daniel Shoer Roth, a staff writer for el Nuevo Herald, is coordinator of  Acceso Miami. Follow him on Twitter @danielshoerroth