GLAAD’s History: On the rise and batting for change
Looking back at GLAAD’s history, you would be surprised to see how the LGBTQ media monitoring group has grown into a massive force it is today.
Currently, GLAAD has made it is goal to get an equality amendment in the US Constitution, rallying LGBTQ groups and allies to make this happen.
But as a recent New York Times article noted, the group had struggle for a while, facing bankruptcy in 2014 and questions of relevance before that.
This is the story (or history) of GLAAD: how they had fought for 30 years to push for better LGBTQ representation in media, and how they’re setting their sights for bigger things now.
GLAAD’s history: Dealing with finance, relevance
In the New York Times article, Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, said that when she was named its head in 2013, the organization was struggling financially as well as adapting in the face of digital media.
Ellis told the New York Times: “I was given a scary mandate. Fix it or shut it down.” Ellis went to work immediately to revive the nonprofit group, getting new donors like Ariadne Getty and Coca-Cola Company.
She also created a “rapid response’ unit that would deal with online media. This helped them later to become advisers to Twitter and Facebook on content policies.
Ellis also had to deal with rebuilding GLAAD’s credibility in Hollywood as some studio executives back then saw it as a corrupt watchdog: give them money and they would go away.
Fortunately, GLAAD now has powerful supporters in the entertainment industry like elevision mogul Greg Berlanti and Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment.
With their success, Ellis now wants GLAAD to push support for a constitutional amendment to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.
GLAAD’s history: Taking on Media and Hollywood
GLAAD was first formed as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation by a group of LGBT people in media in 1985, taking on the New York Post for its sensationalized AIDS coverage and homophobic reporting.
By 1987, GLAAD managed to convince the New York Times to change its editorial policy on the use of the word “gay” instead of other more derogatory terms.
Even as they pushed the Associated Press and other TV and print news sources to follow, organizers began to work also on the entertainment and advertising industry.
GLAAD soon became one of Hollywood’s most powerful organization as named by Entertainment Weekly, and the Los Angeles Time said they were “possibly one of the most successful organizations lobbying the media for inclusion.”
They convinced Hallmark to remove “lesbian” from the list of banned greeting card words in 1991, and persuaded ABC to allow Ellen DeGeneres’ “Ellen” character in her TV show to come out as gay in 1997.
After a sustained GLAAD campaign in 2013, the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay youths. It was also then that they had renamed themselves with GLAAD as their primary name to cover the whole LGBTQ community.
GLAAD moving into the future as culture agent
After dealing with GLAAD’s financial and credibility issues, Ellis wants GLAAD to take on bigger foes.
Before, the group was reactive. Now they’re more proactive as they review scripts, visit sets, and advise on publicity campaigns.
Ellis said: “We’ve moved from a Hollywood watchdog to a cultural change agent. With that, we’ve expanded how we move hearts and minds to create a more accepting world for all people.”
“We have now re-established GLAAD. How do we apply our momentum to a big, bold vision?” she said.
The constitutional amendment for equality GLAAD is pushing is different from the proposed Equality Act, which would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This has some LGBTQ leaders worried as they think it would distract attention or siphon resources from the push to get the Equality Act into law.
But Ellis is undeterred. After a meeting in Washington, DC, she said: “I expected some resistance, some ‘you guys are out of your minds,’ but our meetings on the Hill went phenomenally well.”