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GLAAD: A New Direction or More of the Same?
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/19/12
Last updated on: 09/19/12
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Herndon Graddick.

In April 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) announced the appointment of Herndon Graddick as its executive director. The appointment seemed to herald a return to the kind of activism implicit in its founding as a watchdog organization that fights back against defamation in the media. Despite some promising new initiatives by the organization, however, its response to the slurs of major league baseball player Yunel Escobar may indicate that not enough has changed.

GLAAD was founded in 1985 by activists and writers Arnie Kantrowitz, Darrell Yates Rist, and Vito Russo to protest the sensationalized and defamatory New York Post coverage of the emerging AIDS epidemic.

Over the years, the organization has become best known for its annual Media Award galas and its work in the entertainment industry. It continues to monitor incidents of defamation in the media and works to redress biased representations, but that central mission has in recent years come to seem secondary.

Indeed, in recent years GLAAD has come under fire from grassroots activists who have argued that the organization has lost its way, that in effect it has been coopted by the media groups that it was formed to monitor and lobby.

Jarret Barrios, the immediate past executive director of GLAAD, resigned in the wake of revelations that he had sent letters to the Federal Communications Commission supporting the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, apparently at the behest of AT&T, which is a major corporate sponsor of GLAAD.

Critics who charged that GLAAD has become too closely identified with the very entities it is tasked with monitoring have pointed out that too often the organization has worked harder to save the careers of celebrities who have defamed the glbtq community than it has to defend the community.

For example, when comedian and actor Tracy Morgan ranted against gay people in his concert performances in 2011, even saying that he would murder his own son if he were gay, many critics felt that GLAAD was more interested in salvaging Morgan's career than in defending the glbtq communities.

At the same time that many grassroots gay people were calling for Morgan to be fired from his lucrative acting job on NBC's 30 Rock, GLAAD arranged an "apology tour" media blitz for the besieged comedian, who retained his job.

Many of us hoped that Graddick's appointment as executive director was a signal that the organization would return to its original vision and purpose. An increased militancy, we believe, is needed to counter the perception that instead of being a watchdog GLAAD has become corporate media's lapdog.

The reaction to the recent incident involving Toronto Blue Jay short stop Yunel Escobar is not encouraging. The Cuban-born Escobar got into trouble by painting "Tu Ere Maricon" ("You are a faggot") in his eye black as he mounted the field last weekend.

As the result of an international outcry, the Blue Jays announced yesterday that Escobar will face a three game suspension and will undergo sensitivity training by GLAAD. He will also donate his lost salary to GLAAD and to the Canadian group, You Can Play, which is dedicated to combating homophobia in sports.

Escobar's offense is, admittedly, less serious than Tracy Morgan's, more annoying than threatening. It may reflect machismo as much as homophobia and may reflect a lack of understanding of Canadian culture. Escobar claims that the did not intend to offend the gay community. Still, it was a stupid and offensive breach of civility, and deserves to be punished.

GLAAD's involvement with this incident is troubling. GLAAD apparently continues to believe its mission is one of rescuing the careers of celebrities who make offensive remarks.

I do not believe that GLAAD should be involved in providing sensitivity training or serving to resurrect the careers of people who attack the glbtq community.

Interestingly, however, GLAAD's intervention on behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays coincides with the release of a video that reassures us that the organization has embarked on the new direction we called for last year.

The video, produced by the Gill Foundation, reports on recent initiatives undertaken by GLAAD. Those initiatives give hope that GLAAD may return to its militant roots. But I think that to be taken seriously the organization must refuse to be involved in rehabilitating the careers of those who defame our community.

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