The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has figured out an extraordinarily effective formula for pushing back against homophobia in the media: they’re good at isolating everything from stupid Twitter posts to egregious on-air remarks, mobilizing the public, and scoring everything from a suspension for CNN’s Roland Martin to donated time and work from director Brett Ratner after he said in an impressive display of idiocy that “rehearsal is for fags,” comments that cost him a gig directing the Oscars. But the success of that formula also means that GLAAD spends time going after people like Kirk Cameron, the conservative former 80s star who is now essentially a Christian entertainer, and who is, unsurprisingly, not a huge fan of gay people. It’s one thing to call out egregiously hateful, bullying, inaccurate remarks, particularly in contexts where those remarks make gay people less safe or directly affect policy. It’s another to call for total homogeneity in public discourse, even to the extent of silencing people who can only discredit themselves by speaking.
So I’ll be particularly interested to see in which direction Herndon Graddick, the new president of GLAAD, takes the organization. As Deadline points out, he’s worked on campaigns both to defend gay entertainers from boycotts, and to call commentators to account for things they say about gay people. And I wonder if the first half of that equation might actually hold the key to GLAAD’s future.
It’s absolutely true that we’ve got a lot more gay characters, and gay entertainers in pop culture than we did even a decade ago. But there are serious limitations to those portrayals. We can have settled gay couples like Mitch and Cam on Modern Family, but we don’t exactly have a lot in the way of romantic comedies between gay men (though Happy Endings is making some strides in this regard), much less serious sexual chemistry between gay men on network on television. There are very, very few lesbian characters anywhere in popular culture. There are almost no queer people of color—something like Pariah is still rare, and reserved for indie release. And gay love stories get marketed as gay stories first and broadly appealing love stories second, the kind of thing general audiences are supposed to feel good for watching rather than watching primarily because they’ll enjoy it.
This is an area where GLAAD could focus on getting more portrayals of gay people, and gay issues in the media, rather than simply shutting down negative remarks and negative characterizations. If straight writers and directors don’t feel confident in their ability to create credible gay characters and tell credible gay stories, GLAAD could provide a gut and details check. If folks want to work those characters and those issues into their work but don’t know where to start, GLAAD could provide ideas and fact-checks down the road. Shutting down negative portrayals at best gets us to neutral. And it’s much harder to create new things than to protest existing ones, but that’s actually much more essential work.