opening arguments

Just How Many Shards of Glass Closet Got Stuck in Miami Anchor Charlie Perez?


Is ousted Miami news anchor Charles Perez, who claims he was fired for being gay, just another example of why trying to shatter the glass closet is bad for your career? Or was he just bad at his job and using his sexuality as an excuse for a payday?

Perez had been holding down the anchor chair for Miami’s ABC affiliate WPLG, owned by Washington Post.Newsweek. But sometime around March he began getting reprimanded for not acting anchor-y; his bosses told him his lady co-anchors looked more like “girlfriends” (or “girl-friends”?) than colleagues. “Butch it up” was the message Perez heard, which led to him filing a discrimination claim. And that, if his story is to be believed, is what just got him fired. (There was also the email to his therapist about his “gender identity issues” that Perez thinks his now-ex leaked to his bosses, adding a whole new chapter of intrigue to the plot.)

Now, like any good media drama, Perez is telling his side of things! (Just like former CNN anchor Thomas Roberts, who says he left the network because his contract was up, not because anyone had a problem with him being gay.)

Most of all, it appears Perez is perplexed by his ousting. Even if he is a homo, and his bosses knew he was a homo, and all his viewers knew he was a homo, and the asteroid that smashed into Jupiter knew he was a homo, he was still pretty damn good at his job. And the news business is, well, a business. But also: An old boys club.

They say I was demoted for financial reasons, but their reasoning and their examples keep changing. They have continued to be the No. 1 station in the market, and my co-anchor and I have continued to deliver the ratings—along with stellar performance reviews. It just doesn’t ring true.

What does make sense is that, by living honestly, I began not to fit into their valuable picture. And so, out of fear, to the back of the bus I was told to go.

But what about critics who will say Perez is an opportunist? That he’s using his sexuality as the best unemployment insurance ever? Well: Going after his bosses isn’t going to help him get another job. (But it could get him paid.)

I’ll probably never work in the news business again. Honestly, who’s going to hire a newsman, as good as he may be, who litigates against his employer? It’s not exactly a career builder. The good news, as my dentist told me August 6, the day I was fired, is: “They can only take your job. They can’t take your talent.”

Since my firing, I’ve added a retaliation charge to my discrimination claim with the Miami-Dade County Equal Opportunity Board. The case will now go before a three-judge panel, which can award damages.

We feel bad for Perez, not just for losing a well-paying job in a business that’s downsizing, but also because it sounds quite plausible he was axed for being gay — even if one of his bosses is also a gay man. But we’re not quite on board with Perez’s tactic to begin martyring himself. It may be reasonable to a degree, but if we’ve learned anything since Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, it’s best to let others compare you to The Greats.

I understand there are those who believe that my actions will actually make it harder for gay men and women to rise up, for fear they’ll start trouble. But that is no reason not to do the right thing. In the words of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” Barack Obama, in his acceptance speech on November 4, 2008, added that we play a part in that history and must put our hands on that arc and “bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”

But hey, know what larger issue this brings up? If the network fired Perez simply because he was gay, it (almost) would have been perfectly legal! Yes, in 2009!

There are no state or federal laws to support my claim. I’m relying on a new county ordinance, enacted last November, that added sexual orientation as a protected class. A positive outcome could help push the need for a state law and for the passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was recently reintroduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

Charles Perez: Fired gay news anchor, beacon for ENDA.