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Not So GLAAD Anymore
O n January 23, 2005 Joan Garry, the executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates Against Defamation (GLAAD), announced that she will be leaving her post after an eight year tenure. Garry—who came to GLAAD after 16 years in the entertainment industry—brought a new spin to what had started as a grassroots activist group in 1985 to combat negative images of gay people in the news media.
such as Jewelle Gomez, Joan Nestle, and Vito Russo intended GLAAD
to be a rabble-rousing watchdog group that would rally community
response to biased, explicitly anti-gay news reporting. Over the
years, however, GLAAD has evolved into a national organization operating
annually on $7 million with a political agenda that is murky at
best—at worst, it is dangerous to free speech, artistic expression,
and the interests of LGBT people.
Under Garry’s leadership, GLAAD has become far more involved in promoting and attacking “good” and “bad” images of queers in the entertainment industry. Given Garry’s background, this shouldn’t be a surprise. She was vice president of business operations for Showtime. Before that she helped launch MTV. As director of business development for MTV Networks she established new channels and helped create the annual MTV Video Music Awards. Thanks to Garry’s experience and vision, GLAAD is one of the most visible LGBT advocacy organiz- ations in the country.
So what’s the problem? We can’t expect grassroots groups from the mid-1980s to stay stuck in a 20-year-old political and economic mind-set. But GLAAD has essentially become an arm of the entertainment industry. Sure, it’s an arm that is “promoting”—whatever that actually means—positive images of LGBT people, but it’s removed itself from the outsider position of commenting on the media to an insider position of working with the people who produce those images.
This collaborative relationship has proved problematic on many levels. On one hand, GLAAD— mostly through its highly profitable annual award dinners in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York—congratulates people, television shows, and newspapers for promoting positive images of gay people. These can range from the sublime—this year’s nominees for Outstanding Newspaper Columnists, Patrick Moore (Los Angeles Times , Newsday ) and Frank Rich (the New York Times )—to the idiotic: Oliver Stone’s Alexander , which was nominated as Outstanding Film of the Year, apparently because its protagonist was bisexual. (GLAAD doesn’t seem to care that Alexander was one of the first proto-fascists with a murderous desire to dominate the world and subject all other cultures to his.)
But along with praise for the “outstanding” productions and people, GLAAD also tries to bury the bad ones, and this is where other problems arise. It is one thing for GLAAD—or any group—to criticize newspapers, magazines, and television news shows for presenting one-sided and homophobic information. But GLAAD has actively lobbied to have some shows —such as Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s and Mike Savage’s—taken off the air and has called for boycotts of such artists as Eminem.
Further, in 2002 GLAAD pressured the Game Show Network to remove a 1972 episode of the “Match Game” because, in a moment of game show stupidity, guests Dick Gautier (Hymie from “Get Smart”) and his wife, Barbara, answered host Gene Rayburn’s question, “Doris just got married and found out her husband was a ‘blank,’” with “fag.” Later that year GLAAD decided that Kevin Smith’s comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was homophobic. Scott Seomin, GLAAD’s entertainment-media director, wrote that he was “overwhelmed by the potential negative impact for the film with what we would assume is a large share of its target audience: teen and young adult males.” He added that GLAAD “will be public and aggressive in our condemnation and will provide substantiation for our opinions.”
So how did GLAAD proceed? They told Smith that he, and the film’s releasing company, should make a sizable donation—they suggested $200,000—to the Matthew Shepard Foundation to which GLAAD, and several of its longtime staff people, have close ties. The implication was that GLADD would then not publicize their dislike of the film. Smith subsequently donated $10,000 (Mirimax passed) and GLAAD went forward with its criticism of the movie. Seomin was quoted in the August 3 issue of Entertainment Weekly , saying of the movie: “I’ve never seen something so horrific.”
The entire incident was pathetically absurd and incredibly injurious to GLAAD’s integrity. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is no more homophobic than any episode of “South Park” and many episodes of “Queer as Folk” (which regularly gets nominated for GLAAD Outstanding Television Series award). In addition, the idea that GLAAD would actually try and shake down —extort is the correct word— money from an independent filmmaker is not just shocking, but illegal, immoral, and antithetical to the basic precepts of the gay liberation movement and fundamental freedoms of speech and expression.
The Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back incident exposes the heart of the problem. What is offensive and defamatory to gay people? Who makes these decisions and who enforces them? GLAAD cannot define what’s offensive, which isn’t surprising since neither can the U.S. Supreme Court. But common sense would be useful. Does saying “fag” on a 1972 episode of “Match Game” mean that the episode has to be banned from television reruns 30 years later? Why is the film South Park Uncut —which features a love affair between Satan and Saddam Hussein—not offensive and the silly stoner comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is? The answer, of course, is that it all depends on who is asking, who is looking, who is part of the discussion and who is left out. GLAAD created this problem when it decided to go into the entertainment business. Judging the accuracy of a news report is much different than judging art. GLAAD can deal with these issues by getting out of show business and back into watchdog media commentary.
G LAAD’s original mission was to target inaccuracies and inequities in mainstream media. Implicit in this was the mission to support alternative and independent gay and lesbian media and art. It was obvious to GLAAD’s founders that any representations and depictions of GLBT people that appeared in the mainstream—no matter how positive and even complex—were going to be, by their nature, a product of commercialism and consumerism. Like the Black Power movement and the Women’s Movement before them, the early Gay Liberation Movement knew that it was incumbent on them to create new, more honest images and art from inside the GLBT experience. From 1969 gay and lesbian artists, writers, activists, publishers, producers, and directors did just that. These efforts not only gave birth to a wide array of wonderful and great art, but also created a social context within which mainstream production and promotion of books, movies, television, plays, and whatever about gay people lives could also flourish. This has continued—with ups and down, often buffeted by economics and movements of social change —for more than 30 years.
But GLAAD isn’t interested in any of this. Given the choice between praising a well written article about gay families in the mainstream press or the gay and lesbian press, they will always choose the first. Hell, it seems like they will always choose giving an award to a straight person over giving one to a gay person. Sure, this is their mission. But isn’t giving awards to “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy” or “The L Word” for their “positive” gay and lesbian images (a debatable case in any event) and not paying attention to what gay and lesbian artists do, just sort of, well, insulting. In past years GLAAD— smarting under criticism about this—has done a little more in recognizing non-mainstream gay and lesbian art and talent. But they haven’t done much. After all, it would certainly be more difficult to raise big bucks at a fundraiser to support your $7 million a year budget by giving awards to off-Broadway lesbian playwrights or gay male folk-song writers than by having them sponsored by HBO and Showtime.
This is not to say that “Queer as Folk” and “Will and Grace” aren’t fun (well, sometimes) and certainly they are culturally important—more people watch “The L Word” than attend lesbian theater off-Broadway. But a single-minded focus on praising mainstream companies who make billions producing mostly junk, a very small percentage of which address GLBT concerns, seems not just misguided, but downright wrong.
Michael Bronski is a teacher, activist, and writer. His latest book is Pulp Friction.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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