'TV On The Go' comes to gay Chicago

Thu. June 28, 2012 10:55 AM by Anthony Morgano

gay chicago tv interactive director jhonmar castillo

photo credit // frank failing

Gay Chicago TV hopes to paints realistic portrait of Chicago's LGBT community

Chicago, IL - Gay Chicago TV, a new web-based TV station for the LGBTQ community, officially launched to the public this Monday following a soft launch last December. The new season of programming consists of 16 shows, including an original miniseries, all of which are broadcast online at www.gaychicagotv.com.

According to Executive Producer, Interactive Creative Director and Founder Jhonmar Castillo, Gay Chicago TV started partially as a response to Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Project." While Castillo admired the Savage's message and all the awareness the campaign was able to raise, he still felt like it wasn't enough. When you're 17, Castillo said, it's really hard to see past 17, so instead of just telling queer teens to hold on and hope for the best, he wanted to show them just how good it gets.

"I wanted to create an outlet, a platform, a window for these kids to see how our community really is and not the stereotypes that are put on mainstream media where people tell us what we gay people are like," Castillo told ChicagoPride.com. "I wanted to show them how our community really is and who we are -- we're doctors, we're lawyers, we are neighbors, we're teachers and we live in communities where we find love and find friendship and we get to be anything we want to be and our dreams come true."

Castillo, who owned his own successful marketing and advertising agency, stopped taking clients last summer to work full-time on developing the concept and shows for Gay Chicago TV. In November he held open auditions for hosts and in December Gay Chicago TV was softly launched. Castillo did not promote the soft launch, but allowed Facebook, friends and word of mouth to draw people to the initial developments of the project.

"We still don't know what our demographic will be, we're still testing it, but we're getting people from everywhere," Castillo said, noting that their current viewership spans age groups and geographic regions across the country and has even received hits overseas. "The response has been amazing -- everyone that found out about Gay Chicago TV and what we're doing has been very supportive."

For Castillo and his partner Ryan Witmer, the undertaking of Gay Chicago TV is a big risk financially, but Castillo truly believes in his vision and the benefits it will have for his community. One of the biggest challenges so far has been finding sponsors for the show. Gay Chicago TV currently employs 30 hosts, actors and other creative entities, all of whom are working on a volunteer basis until more support is found. As an ad man himself, Castillo sees the difficulty of attracting sponsors as stemming from the fact that Gay Chicago TV is new product that has not yet been tested, but as a gay man he sees the hesitancy extending more from a fear of advertising with the LGBTQ community. It's no secret that in the gay world sex sells and a lot of larger corporations don't want their advertisements running alongside a picture of a man in his skivvies.

"For the last six months we have been proving ourselves, trying to show that our content is great and that the advertising guidelines that we are using are very strict, so they can feel comfortable bringing their advertising and their sponsorship to Gay Chicago TV," Castillo said.

Unlike LGBT-oriented programming on Bravo or LOGO, Gay Chicago TV is not about sex, drama and drag queens. Instead, it aims to paint a realistic portrait of the LGBTQ community that is easily accessible, even to the mainstream. One of the shows Castillo is most excited about, in fact, is not aimed directly at queers, but at their friends, allies and families. The name "Out Parenthood" brings to mind a TLC special about gay couples adopting, but is actually a journalistic show talking to and dealing with the issues of the parents of LGBTQ kids. Castillo believes that if he can give parents the tools to cope not only with their children coming out, but with their own coming out processes as the parents of queer youth, he can provide a major benefit for the community.

The remaining 15 programs seek to show different areas and segments of the LGBTQ community. These include station staples like a DIY show and a travel show, titled "At Home" and "Destination Q," respectively and a cooking show titled "Urban Kitchen" that is still in search of a host.

There are also a number of journalistic, news-related shows, such "Critical Thinking," hosted by ChicagoPride.com columnist Waymon Hudson. Hudson joins the Gay Chicago TV team for this season after he was interviewed on another show, "In Profile," which looks at local LGBT community leaders, movers and shakers and the impact they have. Hudson hopes to use "Critical Thinking" to explore the lesser talked about issues in the LGBT community, with upcoming shows planned on transgender issues, bisexuality and racism in the community. More than anything, he hopes that his show will inspire in-depth discussion of the news.

"Connecting the dots between our issues and looking at the underlying factors in our struggle can not only be educational, but also provides us more ammunition in our fight for full-equality," said Hudson, who encourages his viewers to continue the discussion after his show using the Twitter hashtag #WaymonWrapUp. "The show's name says it all -- when it comes to LGBT politics, we can all use a little more ‘critical thinking.'"

One of Gay Chicago TV's most popular shows is "Chit-Chatting," a round-table style discussion in which panelists are given a topic and 10 minutes to discuss it. The panelists don't know beforehand what their topic is, resulting in an entertaining and supremely candid discussion. This season, Castillo decided to rotate the hosts from the other shows into "Chit-Chatting" to give viewers a chance to get to know the Gay Chicago TV family in a more relaxed, casual setting.

One of the hosts in rotation is TJ Chernick, news anchor for "Gay Report." Chernick's show reports on news affecting the LGBTQ community on a local, national and international level, but also brings important events happening around Chicago straight to viewers. Already, Chernick has broadcast live from Andersonville's Midsommarfest, Sidetracks' 30 year anniversary party, ChcagoPride.com's 10 year anniversary party and most recently from the record-attended 2012 Chicago Gay Pride Parade.

"We've been out in the community and our goal is to give people an opportunity, even if they can't make it, to know what's going on and to give them an opportunity to see what types of events there are and how these bars or these organizations are actually involved with the community," Castillo told ChicagoPride.com.

Gay Chicago TV makes a point of promoting within the local LGBTQ community and city of Chicago. "Scope" offers viewers a chance to explore the city through their computer screens, taking them along to find the best places to eat, drink, shop and more in the Windy City. The show "Elements," hosted by HGTV's "Design Star" runner-up Karl Sponholtz, also promotes small businesses in Chicago. In each show, Sponholtz chooses an element, for example leather, and then discusses how you can incorporate it into architecture, design, fashion and more, allowing him to highlight everything from furniture stores to small clothing boutiques.

The rest of the programming caters the breadth and diversity of the LGBTQ community. "Out Rock" and "Relay" focus on music, the arts and entertainment in Chicago, while "Score" explores the LGBTQ sports scene. "Among Girls" provides programming specifically targeting lesbian and bisexual women and "Familia" looks at LGBTQ issues through a Latino lens. Castillo hopes that "Familia" will evolve in the future to look at similar issues through different lenses, emphasizing that Chicago is a multi-cultural city where everyone sees gay differently.

The only scripted show on Gay Chicago TV is its original miniseries titled "Shelter City." The gothic-themed story is set against the metropolitan backdrop of Chicago and explores relevant issues in the LGBTQ community. Perhaps the most exciting part of "Shelter City" is in its boundary-breaking casting choices. Castillo has cast Angelique Munro, a popular drag performer and transgender actress who recently transitioned from male to female, in the role of Erica, a biological woman.

"For years the media has had straight actors portraying GLBT characters," Munro told ChicagoPride.com. "Well for me, personally, I self identify as female, so it makes sense to be cast as a biological woman. Hopefully our society will tune in and just see me as Erica and love the show."

Gay Chicago TV's slogan is "TV on the go" and Castillo envisions audience members catching up on shows on their cell phones and tablets on their morning commute to work, during their lunch break or while waiting for friends at the bar. To make this plausible, each program is kept under 15 minutes, though he concedes that in the future this may vary based on content.

Castillo has big plans for the future. In it, he sees Gay Chicago TV as only one of a number of satellite stations under the umbrella of GayTVOnTheGo.com. Together, these sites will help promote each city's individual LGBTQ community through local installations of shows like "Scope" and "Score" while broadcasting shows with a more national focus to all stations. Castillo already owns the names and logos for Gay San Francisco TV and hopes to also expand to New York, Los Angeles, Miami and other cities with notably large LGBTQ communities.

"I'm so committed to this project because there's so many people involved and I owe them so much for all the hard work they put into this," Castillo said. "I will be always grateful and my goal is to get this going and make it big and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. I think it'll be a lot of fun."

Gay Chicago TV is hosting a launch party in the form of a private reception for 400 of Chicago's media personalities as well as partners and sponsors at Sidetrack, the station's first sponsor, on Wednesday July 18. For more information about Gay Chicago TV and to check out this season's programs, visit www.gaychicagotv.com.