Chris Hernandez, a familiar face to many in Kansas City from his role at KSHB-TV, Channel 41, where he covered national politics and City Hall, won’t be so visible in local television any longer. He left the TV station in August to become marketing director at the Unicorn Theatre, a position that was vacated by Justin Shaw when he left to start as executive director at the Kansas City Anti Violence Project.
Hernandez is also known to many people in Kansas City because he sings in the Heartland Men’s Chorus and volunteers for local nonprofit organizations. As we celebrate National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) and LGBT History Month, it’s also important to note that Hernandez has been openly gay in his career to no disadvantage.
He worked at KSHB for nearly eight years. In addition to his reporting duties, he sometimes substituted on the anchor desk and also provided a voice on the panel of experts for the public television show KC Week in Review on KCPT, Channel 19.
Hernandez previously worked at the CBS station in Chicago and the ABC affiliate in Cleveland. Throughout that time, he was involved in a relationship with Paul Monteil, his partner of 17 years, who works at Hallmark in Kansas City. They had a commitment ceremony with family 10 years ago and several years ago got married in Iowa.
“As I was advancing in my career, which in broadcasting generally means you have to go to other cities and other markets, he was getting promotions at Hallmark. So we ended up deciding to try long distance and we did. And then it got to the point where we said, ‘What are we going to do?’ and made the decision since both of our families are here in Kansas City that I would come back to Kansas City.”
Hernandez is a journalism graduate of the University of Kansas and a native of Kansas City. In recent years, he said, he had been thinking about his future if he stayed in broadcast journalism.
“It’s been about a year-and-a-half, two years, where I was at this point in my life where I thought, ‘I’ve done this for a long time. Do I want to do it the rest of my career, or do I want to do something different?’ I’ve always been active in community events and stuff, but it seemed like this time around, after I had already gone out to big markets, done the typical career path for journalism, the decision to come home was really about coming home, being involved in the community, having family close, and it just kind of changes your perspective.
“I think being active on some boards in the nonprofit community — it just opens your eyes a little bit to what there is outside of journalism. I had just been eating, breathing and living TV news for years and not really thinking about anything else, so it was a process of thinking about different career paths, talking to people who were in various forms of communication whether it’s marketing, PR, community relations.”
Hernandez said he even thought of going into e-commerce and opening an online store for art and more.
“As I was in that process and weeding things out, thinking about new things, I found out about the Unicorn job. I had known Cynthia Levin for, I don’t know, 15 years or whatever. We’ve been a supporter of the Unicorn. My partner, Paul, had been on the board, and he had just stepped down off the board after I got hired. So we’ve certainly always known and loved the Unicorn. It just sounded like the most interesting job description of all the things I had been looking at. It’s cool, funky, edgy theater in Midtown that has been there a long time. I went ahead and pulled the trigger, which was really a big thing in my life.”
Hernandez jumped into his new job at the Unicorn midway into the current production of The Motherf**ker with the Hat. The upcoming musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, will be the first Unicorn production that Hernandez has been involved with marketing from the very beginning of the show.
“It’s a political show,” he said. “Having covered politics for so many years, it’s really cool. It’s got a great score, and it’s like this whole Andrew Jackson from the early 1800s, but it’s all about the whole populism vs. Washington insiders. And it’s just so cool how they’ve taken that bit of history and in telling his story, it’s so relevant to what is still going on today.”
In the spirit of National Coming Out Day, Hernandez described a learning experience he went through about being out in the workplace.
“Well, here’s the deal. I was talking about the camera craving authenticity, and that’s what works in news, anything that involves the camera. In my career, early on, I was dealing with the whole coming-out issue and I had an agent, and we were trying to get me out of Kansas City to move up the ladder. We were working with my tape, trying to put together a really good tape. On the surface, it looked like I had everything. Great live shots, good storytelling, a good look, everything was there. For some reason, something wasn’t connecting, and we couldn’t figure out what it was. And my agent and I talked, and talked, and talked.
“And what we finally figured out was that I was a gay man who was still trying to put up a front, like ‘I’m Mr. Reporter Man, and it doesn’t matter if I’m gay, I could be straight, you don’t know’ — just kind of this front, and it was getting between me and the camera.
“And it was a revelation. We had been trying everything — wear more casual clothes, change your hair. And when we finally figured this out in these long conversations, it was a revelation and it really affected my work. And this was at the same time where I was settling into my relationship with Paul. And I think you become more comfortable with who you are when you have a relationship where you are very happy. And it all just came together, and I thought, ‘I don’t need to hide this. I just need to be who I am.
“… As soon as I became comfortable in my own skin, my work dramatically improved. I got rid of the wall and made the connection. I had people who I had worked with for years who were suddenly saying, ‘Chris, what did you do? Your work is so much better.’ And it’s really about just being comfortable in your skin and who you are.”