In his commentary, “GLAAD Reconsidered,” Michaelangelo Signorile offers a mixture of criticism and claims about the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that are not supported by the facts. And while criticism is certainly welcome, as it would be from all who we serve in our media advocacy work, the central thesis of Signorile’s piece is incorrect.
Signorile says that accepting money from networks and movie studios “enormously compromises” GLAAD. Let’s take a look at one of the companies that Signorile says supports our work, but that we allegedly ‘don’t criticize.’ In 2007, GLAAD provided feedback to Universal Studios about the film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, some of which it took, some of which it didn’t. GLAAD’s view at the time was that a film with A-list stars and a summer release would reach an audience that many movies featuring LGBT content do not reach. Signorile disagreed and criticized us then and rehashes the same criticism here
that GLAAD was soft on Universal because they donate.
In fact, GLAAD hasn’t been soft on Universal. Last year we secured an opportunity to view an early cut of Universal’s film Brüno. We expressed serious concerns about some of the scenes. When those parts were not removed, GLAAD’s voice was front and center in the protest around the film, educating everyday moviegoers about the reality of the LGBT issues presented in the film. Some in the community agreed with GLAAD’s position around the movie, while others felt that GLAAD didn’t "get it," including one of our sponsors: NBC Universal. We, however, were more focused on the LGBT youths who were going to be called "Brüno" when they returned to school that fall. Or the voters who would be picturing Brüno in a hot tub with his adopted infant as they voted to take away our right to adopt.
Fox Broadcasting is another example. Fox Broadcasting is supportive of GLAAD’s work, and GLAAD did not hesitate to challenge Fox and the producers of So You Think You Can Dance when judge Nigel Lythgoe made deeply problematic remarks about a same-sex pair of ballroom dancers last year. And in the most recent season, when a same-sex couple competed on the show, the comments and criticism by the judges were respectful and inclusive. GLAAD has also challenged and continues to ask the community to raise their voices to producers of Fox’s The Cleveland Show.
Moreover, GLAAD has routinely criticized NBC and Fox for their lack of overall LGBT content in our annual and highly publicized Network Responsibility Index. NBC received a failing grade in 2009, and Fox failed in 2008.
And then there is ABC, a network GLAAD very publicly called to task after 20/20 ran a segment that claimed the murder of Matthew Shepard was not based on antigay bias. We released a document with 10 facts about the case that 20/20 excluded and our former executive director Joan Garry was on the record as saying the segment was “not a credible piece of journalism.” Would we do the same today? We would, and we will continue to.
At the foundation of his opinion piece, Signorile is saying that these networks' support buys GLAAD’s acquiescence. However, the total contributions of these networks amounted to just a tad over 1% of GLAAD’s annual budget. Does it really stand to reason that so few who contribute so little proportionally have so much influence? No, it doesn’t.
Another error in the commentary comes when Signorile inaccurately describes GLAAD’s board of directors as “veteran film producers, media executives, entertainment attorneys, and other power players.” In fact, GLAAD’s board consists of committed LBGT activists and professionals in various fields, from accounting to banking to public relations and corporate recruiting.
It seems like Signorile, and many who criticize GLAAD’s work, do so because we don’t always see eye to eye. Because we don’t respond to the things they want us to respond to in exactly the way they want us to respond — or, sometimes, because we do respond to certain things and they think we shouldn't (and it's worth noting that these voices of criticism can and often do end up disagreeing with each other about what they think GLAAD ought to be doing). That's to be expected in a community of diverse voices and perspectives, and such feedback, from Signorile and many others, is valuable as we shape and continually evaluate our work.
What he and many others fail to do is understand or care about GLAAD’s full work beyond entertainment. Work like our presence in local communities to help statewide organizations like Washington Families Standing Together share the stories of local couples, religious leaders, and allies. We’re also collaborating with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project to train Florida families and couples to speak out in their local communities about how the ban on adoption by gay and lesbian people hurts them. It’s this work that builds support for our community and these stories that stick in the minds’ of voters at the ballot boxes.
Signorile and others also fail to understand that the role of the GLAAD Media Awards is to help fund this work in addition to recognizing news coverage and entertainment media that are doing an exceptional job at bringing LGBT stories into the living rooms of America — while also setting a fairness benchmark for the media industry.
GLAAD is an organization that survives because people know and understand the enormous task we undertake. We appreciate that support and will continue to boldly face our challenges.