By Ross von Metzke
Originally published on Advocate.com June 17 2009 12:00 AM ET
He has two and a half months before he officially takes over the reins at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but former Massachusetts state senator Jarrett Barrios is hitting the ground running. When Barrios takes over as GLAAD's president in September (Neil Giuliano announced he'd be leaving GLAAD earlier this year and officially stepped down last week), he'll become the youngest leader of the gay rights organization in its history. He'll also be the only leader of a national LGBT organization who is bilingual.
A father to two teenage boys, Barrios is also a married man -- part of the deal he made with his partner of 16 years, Doug Hattaway, and with GLAAD when accepting the position was that he be allowed to work from their home in Boston part time, and work out of the New York office the rest of the week. It's that family, he says, and his experiences working and living in Massachusetts (a state that boasts many firsts for LGBT Americans, and where he has spent many years serving as president of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, a driving force behind the state's groundbreaking universal health care program) that make him that much more excited to lend his efforts to leading GLAAD.
In these ever-changing political times, Barrios sat down with Advocate.com to talk about what changes GLAAD needs to make to stay relevant and ensure change actually happens for the gay community.
Advocate.com:In moving GLAAD forward given the current political and media climate, what do you hope to bring to the table -- what do you see for GLAAD in the next few years? Jarrett Barrios: GLAAD is about changing hearts and minds, but in this political environment where so much is at stake, where victories are happening in places like Iowa, Maine, and New Hampshire, and some heartbreaking losses like in California, GLAAD's mission has never been more important. You don't win legal battles for equality and you don't win legislative battles for equality unless you've first achieved an equality of heart and spirit and mind -- until you've sort of persuaded the public of the value and the dignity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americansâ€¦ and that's what GLAAD does. GLAAD puts those everyday stories out -- yours and mine -- for America to understand who we are. We are their neighbors, we are their family, we are their friends.
Are there any issues you think GLAAD should be involved in that it isn't currently? When you look at GLAAD's incredible work in the entertainment industry and the media advocacy work that it does, in some ways, it's hard to see the full story. GLAAD's media advocacy work isn't about changing Hollywood. That change happened a long time ago. It's about reaching through entertainment. It's about reaching people in middle America, in their living rooms, on their terms. That's how you win real equality, full equality for people in places like Iowa, for people in places like Maine. That work is absolutely critical for GLAAD to continue. But there's other work that I would like to see GLAAD continue to build onâ€¦work that's not as well known. The work that GLAAD does with young adultsâ€¦ in sports and, increasingly, where I would like to see GLAAD blossom, is in the world of digital media -- the social media networks in the media age, that is where people get their news, that is where people get their perceptionsâ€¦and, unfortunately, in some cases, stereotypes.
GLAAD has made significant progress in reaching out to the Spanish language community, and you are, I believe, the first president of an LGBT organization who is bilingual. How will that play into your work at GLAAD? Is that an area you will specifically focus on? The work in Spanish-language media is critical for GLAAD's mission, as is the work in the African-American community, in the Asian American community, and in the Native American community. The work that GLAAD does, targeting communities that get their information from the quote-unquote ethnic press -- these are communities that GLAAD will continue to focus on, and it's certainly what I would like to see GLAAD expand on in my tenure. This gets me to the question of California -- a lot of people were upset about the decision on Prop. 8 in California, and rightfully so, but looking forward, the challenge for fair-minded Californians is to reach across their streets to their neighbors and invite them to consider their full equality. A lot of those neighbors are Latino. A lot of those neighbors get their news through the Spanish-language press. It is critical, now more than ever, that GLAAD in its role as a media advocate to the Spanish-language media, but also as a capacity builder working with state and local groups in their communication efforts, amplify the voices of Spanish-speaking LGBT Americans, so that they can persuade their friends and their family to support equality.
A lot of people don't know what GLAAD does -- I want to give you an example, I mentioned this, the communications support. One example is what GLAAD did in New Hampshire. GLAAD didn't take a front-and-center role, they didn't take credit while that was going on, but GLAAD worked behind the scenes developing a communications planâ€¦ in fact, the communications director of the marriage-equality effort was a GLAAD employee [Adam Bass] working with the other folks in New Hampshire to help get the message out. GLAAD was able to build their capacity and amplify their voice. That same work we have to do in every state.
Both you and [GLAAD's former president] Neil Giuliano have a history in politics. There are very high expectations for the Obama administration, but increasingly we're seeing people who are disheartened by what they deem to be his lack of a stand on gay issues. I know GLAAD doesn't work on legislation in Washington, D.C., but in media outreach and work with the entertainment community, how do you hope to influence this administration? GLAAD doesn't work in Washington. They don't work in legislative efforts or in legal battles, but what GLAAD does do is hold out the hope that LGBT Americans can achieve full equality. Full equality isn't incremental, it isn't partial, it's full. And by full equality I mean the kind of stuff you get with those full legislative victories, but that's not it. To maintain those legislative victories, and in fact achieve them in the first place, you have to have the kind of culture changeâ€¦ the changing of hearts and minds that allows those victories to happen. If you have an election, and you elect somebody that you like, who said good things, whether that's your governor or your president or your state representative, it isn't enough just to elect them -- then the work starts to make it possible to achieve that change. It isn't on any elected official to make those changes -- it's on us. We're going to get that change as we continue to organize our efforts and ask for more. Ask for more, not of our politicians, but of our fellow Americans.