A New Top Watchdog at GLAAD

Herndon Graddick, the new executive director of GLAAD, talks about the outlook for the preeminent LGBT media watchdog following some high-profile bumps.



Graddick with Brittany McMillan who first had the idea for Spirit Day.


“Americans really don’t know who transgender people really are, and that’s obviously a focus of GLAAD to try to get the transgender community where the LGB community is today, which is, most Americans know that LGB people are just another part of society,” he says.

In another development under Graddick’s leadership, actor and activist Wilson Cruz has joined the organization as the strategic giving officer. A GLAAD Media Award winner and former board member, the My So-called Life star will work on fund-raising and advocacy efforts with TV networks and film studios.

An evolving mission and expanding audiences make the organization ripe for a formal name change to simply GLAAD “within the short term,” says Graddick. What started as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation more than 25 years ago is today “a lot more than that.”

Graddick is not one to seek the limelight, but his commitment to GLAAD’s work helped him overcome any reservations about being in the public eye as executive director. A native of Alabama, where his father served as attorney general, he counted George Wallace, the former segregationist governor, as a childhood neighbor. Although his father’s politics were “pretty moderate, for Alabama” and his parents never spoke negatively about being gay, he still grew up thinking it was “more socially acceptable to be a murderer than be a gay person.” He struggled with coming out for a year after he moved to Los Angeles for college.

“I wanted to fight against that, whether that was by really accurately producing and reporting on the news to doing what we do here, which is fighting to make the world a better place,” he says. “Fighting was what I did instead of grieving.”

As leader of one of the best-known LGBT organizations, Graddick acknowledges that the group’s choices about what to tackle will be scrutinized. Like his earlier career in journalism, the work is “full of judgment calls,” with “no science to judging the exact, most effective approach to every issue,” he says. Feedback is appreciated.  

“I don’t think we represent every opinion in the LGBT movement, or that there’s not a value in having many different voices in the LGBT community,” he says. “Dissent, from that perspective, is very healthy.”