March 24, 2007
Don't be mad at GLAAD
Posted by: Chris
It’s been a rough 2007 so far for gay rights groups, and much of the flak has come from friendly fire.
The Human Rights Campaign, flush with optimism after the Democrats took control of Congress, has faced a storm of scrutiny from the blogosphere and the gay press calling for greater transparency in its operation and a more independence from the Democrats.
Now it’s the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that’s in the crosshairs. Just days before the group’s high profile Media Awards, the gay cable network here!TV released a blistering letter withdrawing sponsorship of the GLAAD Awards because gay-specific media isn’t eligible to compete.
Steven F. Macias, senior vice president at here! Networks, castigated GLAAD for failing to notice that “media has changed dramatically over the years because of the blood, sweat and tears of brave LGBT activists.” With the advent of here! and Logo, among other gay media outlets producing higher quality content, Macias argued that gay media should no longer be considered outside “the mainstream.”
“Gay networks are raising the bar around what mainstream media should consider fair, accurate, and inclusive work,” wrote Macias. “No longer is the LGBT community beholden to ‘mainstream’ media as the only place where we might catch a glimpse of ourselves.”
In some cases, like Logo’s ground-breaking series “Noah’s Arc” that tells the stories about a group of black gay and bisexual men, gay media is pointing the way for a broader and more diverse characterization of gays generally.
So with gay media leading the way in portraying gays fairly, visibly and accurately, argued Macias, why shouldn’t they be recognized and encouraged by GLAAD for their good work?
The GLAAD policy not to considering gay media in its award categories isn’t new, and applies not only to entertainment but to print and broadcast journalism as well. For years, the gay press has done ground-breaking work covering gay lives and issues, only to see mainstream newspaper reporters and TV news celebrities get all the credit for following our lead.
But does that really make the GLAAD policy wrong-headed. After all, GLAAD is not the gay television or motion picture academy or the queer Pulitzer Prize committee. It’s an advocacy group with a mission: to push for fair, accurate and inclusive portrayals of LGBT people in the media.
Macias took special umbrage at the idea that the good work done by here!TV isn’t covered by that mission, but why should he? A gay TV network is primarily gay people portraying gay people for the viewing pleasure of other gay people. Why should they require an advocacy group to give them credit for doing that job particularly well? It is fundamentally what they do.
The same goes for the gay press, whether magazines or newspapers. The largely gay staff is reporting gay and lesbian stories for largely gay and lesbian readers. That should provide more than enough “check” on the system for them to do the job right. And given the watchdog role the gay press ought to play over gay groups like GLAAD, there’s an inherent conflict of interest in gay newspapers and magazine asking GLAAD for praise and golden statuettes.
GLAAD President Neil Giuliano, who I should disclose is a friend (though that hasn’t stopped me from criticizing him on more than one occasion), answered here!TV by promising to revisit the issue again after this year’s award ceremonies. A special GLAAD board subcommittee convened last year to hear all the arguments pro and con, and ultimately recommended the categories stay defined the way they are for now.
“Personally,” Giuliano wrote Macias, “I think we should work to create a way to recognize LGBT-focused media, and am hopeful someday we will do so.”
One obvious solution would be for GLAAD to create new categories especially for gay TV and journalism outlets, though that’s unlikely to satisfy here! Networks since it chafes so much at not being considered “mainstream.”
There’s too much focus on semantics here. Whether called outside “the mainstream” or just “niche media,” here! Networks, Logo and the gay press have a gay-specific audience and shouldn’t be so focused on integrating queers into American culture generally that they no longer recognize and celebrate our difference.
Ideally, here!TV would sponsor the GLAAD Media Awards because they support the organization’s overall mission and, of course, want visibility among the entertainment industry generally.
The Media Awards, on the other hand, exist to give non-niche, “mainstream” media an additional non-commercial incentive to portray our lives in a fair and inclusive fashion — and, of course, to raise money for GLAAD.
If the need for praise at here! Networks outweigh its support for GLAAD’s mission, so be it. But GLAAD shouldn’t be distracted from its primary mission to placate its gay media critics.
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