20 Years of GLAAD: A Force for Tolerance

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Special to TelevisionWeek

As issues connected to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community increasingly become part of the national discussion, many people don’t recall that 20 years ago even the venerable New York Times did not include the words “gay” or “lesbian” in its stylebook.

Representatives of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation asked for a meeting with Times editors. The Times not only changed its policy in 1987 but later, after GLAAD’s Announcing Equality initiative, began featuring gay and lesbian couples celebrating commitment ceremonies in its Sunday Styles section.

The initiative has grown. More than 500 newspapers nationwide now list gay and lesbian unions alongside heterosexual ones, according to former GLAAD Executive Director Joan Garry. And the organization continues its vigil over not just print media but also television, film and other forms of electronic media.

GLAAD is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, a milestone that is being marked by many in the LGBT community. “GLAAD has been the voice of appropriateness for broadcast and media for its entire history,” said Paul Colichman, founder and CEO of here!, a premium channel that programs for the LGBT audience. “I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

The organization was born in late 1985, when a group of New York-based writers organized to dispute the way the New York Post was covering the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The group protested outside the newspaper’s Manhattan building, throwing rags as a symbol of their opinion of the newspaper. GLAAD grew from that core.

It was a group that would not keep silent for anyone. In 1988 the leadership took on Bob Hope when Mr. Hope used the slur “fag” in his banter on “The Tonight Show.” After a conversation with GLAAD, the iconic comedian taped a public service announcement condemning anti-gay violence.

“What we work for is a broader understanding through media coverage and media images,” Ms. Garry said in an interview last year with TelevisionWeek. “You can’t accept what you don’t understand, and you can’t understand what you don’t see.”

Ms. Garry, who stepped down from her executive director position in June 2005, said the changing political winds in America have made for something of a “chillier climate” in recent years. But GLAAD has not been daunted. Last summer, for example, representatives met with executives at Univision to discuss unflattering images of the LGBT community on Spanish-language TV.

“In less than two years we have had an enormous impact in that area,” Ms. Garry said. “Our approach is always to call an organization or company and request a conversation. With the case of Univision, we tell them things we think they’ve done well and things we think they have not. We say, ‘Here are some stories you could be telling.’ We are pleased with the result.”