Each year the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gives out a number of media awards to honor outstanding images and stories of LGBT people. Since they first began in 1990, they’ve become the single most prestigious recognition of its kind. In 2012, the 23rd GLAAD Media Awards were presented in ceremonies in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This last one just took place last weekend.
A few weeks ago I talked to Rich Ferraro, Director of Communications at the organization, about the awards and the organization’s influence in the media.
How did the GLAAD Media Awards start? What is their purpose?
GLAAD is an organization that works with the media to tell stories about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people. We work with a wide range of media from entertainment outlets, movie studios and TV networks to national news outlets in America, religious press, sports media, online media. We’ve seen that when people hear stories about LGBT people, and allies of LGBT people, they come to learn that LGBT people deserve the same opportunities as they do.
The GLAAD Media Awards honor those stories. They began with an awards ceremony in New York 23 years ago with just a handful of honorees, because LGBT issues were not so spoken about in the media, and certainly not spoken about in a positive way. We wanted a way to say you’re doing a good job, and we want others to follow. And now what we’ve seen is that the awards have become the most visible LGBT event in America, and likely around the world. We’ve had celebrities from Ricky Martin to Ellen Degeneres and Josh Hutcherson, star of The Hunger Games.
Can you tell me about the process of choosing honorees?
We have nominees in English and Spanish-language for a total of 35 categories including news, entertainment, TV, film, as well as some smaller parts of our culture like theatre, comic books, where stories of LGBT people are impacting our culture and creating change. GLAAD has a series of volunteer juries with expertise and with industry experience in all of these different areas. The juries come up with a pool of nominees with a termometer in the media year-round, whether it’s music artists who have used their recent albums to raise awareness on LGBT issues, or monitoring local news media.
GLAAD’s Board of Directors, staff and some of our major donors choose. They vote on the winners. The criteria for voting on the awards recipients is that they are fair, accurate and inclusive of our community, of the full diversity in the LGBT community, it should be original content, a news story that we haven’t heard before, tactful, reaching Americans and those around the world, and overall quality.
There are three ceremonies. Is there a different set of categories or audience for each? Do they have different goals?
The goal of each ceremony is to provide a platform for celebrities and media outlets to talk about their support for LGBT people. It is also to honor public figures and media outlets who are doing an exemplary job. The GLAAD Media Awards have become an industry benchmark that a lot of different movie studios, production companies, newspapers and television networks strive for. They want this recognition. They want to know that they are doing a good job for our community.
The GLAAD Media Awards are also a fundraiser for GLAAD’s work year-round to tell stories of LGBT people. The awards in the three different cities are part of our fundraising. It’s also kind of a way for us to get in front of different communities around the country. In addition to the people who attend the events, each of these has a program with young adults, LGBT and their allies, who come to the awards for free through generous donations from our sponsors. They are able to interact with others like them, to say hello to celebrities who support them for who they are, and they get to see the show.
Do you think the GLAAD Media Awards somehow help push forward or enhance someone’s career, a certain media or show’s success?
I think what they’ve done is they’ve pushed celebrities, public figures and media to do a better and more proactive job at telling LGBT stories.
Speaking of GLAAD’s work more generally, where does GLAAD draw the line between calling out on media’s unfair representation of LGBT people and issues, holding them accountable for their words and images, and making it seem as if GLAAD is maybe trying to censor the media?
More and more when we’re calling out celebrities or media outlets, we’re trying to do more than just get an apology. We’re trying to make it a teachable moment for our culture, and we’re trying to start a national dialogue.
Last year Tracy Morgan, a comedian and actor, made a joke in a standup routine that if his son was gay he would stab him. At GLAAD we hear stories when we work with organizations such as The Trevor Project, we know of the harm and what could happen to LGBT young people when their parents don’t accept them. We’ve also heard terrible stories about the violence that LGBT people face. What we wanted with Tracy was not to bully him into an apology, not to get a two-sentence press statement, but we wanted to use that as a way to really start a national dialogue about what it means when parents reject their LGBT kids, and the violence that LGBT people face.
We spoke with Tracy Morgan, we told him we wanted to take him to The Ali Forney Center, which is a homeless shelter for LGBTs in New York City. He went there with us, he met with young adults whose parents didn’t approve of who they were, and as a result these kids were turned away. Thankfully they had an organization such as The Ali Forney Center to welcome them.
Tracy then spoke with the media and told his fans, who are people that maybe wouldn’t generally hear of this, about why they should accept LGBT people. They heard from someone they admire and from someone whose career they follow that the right thing to do is to accept your kids no matter what. We also worked with teens at The Ali Forney Center to get them to talk about their own stories in the press. After they met with Tracy they went to The Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, MTV News, to some really powerful and international news publications so they could talk, not only about meeting with Tracy but also about their own personal stories.
More and more we’re really trying to push the envelopes. It’s not so much about GLAAD versus the media. It’s about GLAAD telling a wider story.