GLAAD Media Awards

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.

Ricky Martin, award winner.

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.

Cory Monteith and Naya Rivera, stars of “Glee” and this year’s hosts at the NYC ceremony.

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.

You can follow Rich Ferraro and GLAAD on Twitter, learn more about GLAAD Media Awards and this year’s honorees here, and read about a project I collaborate with on GLAAD’s blog.

Blabbeando with Andrés Duque

“I’m game!” That was Andrés Duque‘s response when I asked him for an interview.

I think I first came across Blabbeando shortly after I arrived in New York (where he is based) in 2008, and have been a faithful reader since. Andrés reports on LGBT issues with a smart, inquiring style. Always “thought-provoking and fun”, as he said he intended to on his first blog post. He is also a great interviewer and very amusing Twitter user.

Blabbeando has been included in The Gay & Lesbian Foundation Top 100 LGBT Blogs, nominated for the 2011 GLAAD Awards and The 2008 Weblog Awards.

What has been your experience as a Colombian, gay immigrant, blogger and activist? The immigrant experience is uniquely different for each and every person who comes to the United States so I would hesitate to say my own experience is representative to that of others. But I do think it’s imperative for those of us who did immigrate to this country to stand up for others –including undocumented immigrants- particularly now that the issue is being demonized and used to rile up political anger. It’s mind-boggling to see how people react to economic fears by misdirecting their anger on communities that are less protected than themselves instead of rightfully blaming the policies that created the current economic downturn.

Immigration, in fact, has been of great economic and social benefit to this country over the centuries. But it shouldn’t just be about benefits. It’s about being a more humane nation. There is no reason why the wealthiest nation in the world cannot provide opportunities for immigrants to develop their full potential regardless of economic or educational background.

Of course, if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrant, the odds can be even worse if you come to this country on your own. The nation’s immigration policy is based on a federal family-reunification model that does not even recognize LGBT families. For many who might qualify otherwise, this means there are no legal options to become a naturalized citizen. It’s not that countries should not have an immigration policy. It’s that the current United States immigration policy is so absurd it actually acts against its best interests.

How did you get into blogging? I started blogging six years ago without really having a clear idea of what it was all about. But I had already noticed a few other blogs and their potential to shine a light on issues that were not being reported or debated in mainstream media. Obviously, I have always had a passion for anything Latino and/or LGBT and, from the start, that was my focus, but it was and still is a personal blog with a mix of stories, some of which do not have to do with the Latino LGBT community at all. In that sense, it took me a while to find my voice and find a comfortable writing rhythm.

Initially, I remember trying to use hyperlinks to document almost every single thing I mentioned in a blog post. It took a while for me to realize that most readers only wanted the basic information and a link or two to corroborate if I was properly describing the issue. There also was an additional obstacle: most English-language bloggers can simply point to a link and have people explore that link if they want additional information. For most news posts I rely on Spanish-language articles, which means I actually have to translate most of the background information into English as well, which can take a lot of time.

Besides having your own blog, do you collaborate with other media? There is a Germany-based media group that offers a feed to my blog posts as part of a media package that includes leading mainstream media from around the world. I also have great collaborative relationships with other online media sites including Latino gossip site Guanabee and pop culture site Racialicious which sometimes cross-posts some of my entries.

I am also grateful to count with support from some of the leading LGBT-news bloggers in the United States including Towleroad, Joe.My.God., After Elton, Pam’s House Blend, LGBT POV, The Bilerico Project, Queerty, Rod 2.0, Autostraddle and The New Civil Rights Movement, who often link up to my posts. It’s thanks to them and others that I enjoy a pretty wide readership out there. It is no coincidence that every one of these blogs mostly focus on LGBT news, politics and culture.

Not every blog writer posts a daily entry or multiple daily posts. I’m sure most people don’t even realize how much perseverance, dedication, personal sacrifice and time it takes a blogger to keep up that sort of blogging rhythm but it’s almost a Herculean task. And all the blogs I mentioned above manage to do that while sustaining their quality.

Which blogs do you follow the most or consider worth checking out? The blogs mentioned above are among my daily reads but there are other blogs that are not updated as frequently or might offer unique points of view. Among my favorites, and it might be an eclectic list, are TransGriot, which takes a look at LGBT issues from an African-American transgender woman’s perspective; Monaga, the thoughts of a U.S. expatriate from Harlem living in the Dominican Republic; Hairspray & Fideo, Mi blog es tu blog and Vivir Latino, three different takes on Latino life in the United States; This is fyf, a very specific snap-shot of modern NYC gay life and JockoHomo, which is, well, JockoHomo.

I also follow a few Spanish-language blogs, including Tengo un crush con Nuevallorrrr*, of course, as well as Pedro Julio Serrano (U.S./Puerto Rico), Vivir México (Mexico), Malbarracin (Colombia), Dos Manzanas (Spain), Lake (Argentina), AG Magazine (Argentina), Paquito el de Cuba (Cuba) and Blog de Lima Gay.

And finally, there is a new entry in the form of a blog/online magazine called xQsí Magazine, which is based in the United States and shows great potential. I would say that of all the blogs listed above, it’s probably the one that most overlaps the subject matter on my blog.

You are one of the most heard voices in the Latino LGBT community in New York, the whole country maybe. Do you feel some kind of responsibility for this? To be sincere, I am often unaware of the true reach of a blog. When someone actually recognizes you on the street and tells you they are a fan of Blabbeando it kinda floors you. But I don’t often think about that when I write. I do get the sense that most people who read my blog posts are not necessarily habitual readers. Most stumble upon it from other sites but once they come back a second or third time they realize I am providing information that is unique to U.S. English-language media and they become habitual readers.

In some ways, I think there is a novelty factor for readers when they read my posts on Blabbeando and find out about the tremendous advances that have taken place on LGBT rights in Latin America over the last fifteen years. It challenges deeply ingrained stereotypes that Latinos and Latin America, as a whole, are extremely homophobic. It’s not that homophobia does not exist in the region or in Latin American culture but you rarely see reporting showing these advances.

When it starts getting tricky is when others start recognizing you as an influential blogger and you start getting all sort of pitches that are not particularly relevant to the topics I cover on the blog. Most come from companies who probably see the Latino community as a marketing opportunity and see my blog as a way to reach a specific segment of that community. When it comes down to it, what they actually want is free advertising, and yet when you mention advertising opportunities on the blog you never hear from them again.

You do feel a sense of responsibility when it comes to regular readers and people who come looking for exclusive information. In that sense, I do feel pressure to be as accurate as I am able to be when breaking news and to correct myself when I get things wrong. Also, for a while I tried to be snarky and gossipy because I felt readers would enjoy it, but ultimately it wasn’t my style. I ended up erasing a few posts where I felt I had dished out at a couple of celebrities. It just made me feel dirty. Others do gossip much better than I do.

There has been some criticism that I haven’t covered a number of Latino LGBT stories out there on the one hand, or, on the other, that I have abandoned my roots as an independent blogger as the blog has grown in influence. From the start, I have followed some personal guidelines and mostly focused on unreported stories which often means that if a story is being covered by other blogs out there with larger readerships or by mainstream media, there’s not a lot more I feel I can ad to it.

Blogging is also not something I do for a living so it would be impossible to cover every single thing. As of late, I think that has been on my mind as I mull whether to change the blog format or eliminate some of the more personal posts that have little to do with LGBT Latino issues. But, for now, it seems to appeal to many folks out there and I’m not sure I would have much interest in turning the blog into a 24/7 news source.

I think you see a lot of long-time bloggers wrestle with issues as well and I have seen a lot of bloggers I used to read abandon the blogging format and embrace micro-blogging sites like Twitter and Tumblr. But I still believe there is a healthy environment for older blogs and new blogs out there, particularly if you have a distinct voice.

Which issues are a priority for the Latino LGBT community in New York and the U.S.? The same as the general Latino community in New York and the United States: employment and economic security, immigration reform and access to education and healthcare. Sometimes the question about community “priorities” bothers me –and I know you didn’t mean it that way– because it’s usually code speak for ‘your priority is not important, my priority is’. I am a huge believer in chewing gum and walking at the same time –at least metaphorically because I don’t like gum– and believe we can advocate and work towards several goals at the same time.

What do you think of Colombia’s Constitutional Court’s recent decision on same-sex marriage? What will happen? You know? I don’t think I have even blogged about it and perhaps it’s because I was so frustrated with the decision. At first look, it seemed the Constitutional Court had passed the buck to congress by determining that it was indeed constitutional to define marriage as that between “a man and a woman” and ordering congress to address the legal vacuum facing same-sex partners within two years. But it later emerged that the court had determined for the first time ever that a same-sex partnership should indeed be recognized as a family unit deserving of the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

Afraid that the ruling had left a window wide open, conservative legislators rushed to introduce bills to ban any legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, upon which the President of the Constitutional Court spoke up and clarified that the ruling indeed meant that any measure banning recognition of same-sex partnership rights would be unconstitutional. He said that the Court had ordered congress to find a way to extend legal protections to same-sex couples within two years, not to seek ways to ignore or ban them, and that if congress failed to act within that period, same-sex couples were in their right to formalize their relationship by simply registering their partnerships at notaries.

Some Colombian LGBT advocates have called it a complete triumph. They don’t expect a conservative-leaning congress to ever come to terms with granting legal rights to same-sex partners and argue that this means marriage for same-sex couples two years from now. As the pessimist I have always been, I worry that the two year window will allow congress to find a way to create some sort of legal definition granting limited rights to same-sex couples that falls way short or marriage equality and, even if they don’t, that marriage equality will not necessarily be the end result when two years have gone and there hasn’t been any congressional resolution. It’s a mess of a decision and puts the decision on our rights in the hands of legislators who will work their best to grant us something less than equality.

*Tengo un crush con Nuevallorrrr was‘s original name.