The Women of GLAAD
In January, Sarah Kate Ellis became the new president and CEO of GLAAD, the first woman to hold the position in almost ten years. Ellis, most recently Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Martini Media, was already an award-winning media executive using her communications skills to advocate for the LGBT community.
As the head of GLAAD, Ellis will be well situated to improve media representation and increase visibility of LGBT individuals and communities, oppose defamation and misrepresentation, and work to create real, much-needed social change.
"Working at GLAAD has been a dream come true for me," said Ellis in her fourth week on the job, "because it takes my love of media and love of advocacy work and marries them together."
Ellis is one of several women in highly visible and influential positions within GLAAD, and one of many women making crucial contributions to the struggle for LGBT equality. Last year, Jennifer Finney Boylan became the new co-chair of the organization's National Board of Directors.
Boylan is the first openly transgender person to serve in the position. Another key figure at GLAAD is Monica Trasandes, Director of Spanish Language Media, whose department works to share stories from the LGBT community in Latino and Spanish-language media, helping to increase support and understanding among the fastest-growing population in the United States.
GLAAD has been in existence since 1985, working to eradicate homophobia and derogatory language from media coverage of LGBT issues and to promote positive, diverse and non-stereotypical images of LGBT people in the media. The organization also describes itself as "the communications epicenter of the LGBT movement," helping advocacy groups develop the tools they need to communicate effectively with their constituents and policy makers.
GLAAD was originally an acronym for The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but the official name was changed to GLAAD in 2013, dropping "Gay and Lesbian" to denote that the organization is also committed to bisexual and transgender issues. From its inception as a response to the homophobic and harmful media coverage of AIDS in the 1980s, GLAAD has developed a much more widespread and inclusive agenda to change the culture by influencing media.
So far, they’re pleased with the progress being made, particularly in televised representations of LGBT characters and families.
"When I was coming of age, there was ’Will & Grace,’ and that was it," said Ellis. "Now, multiple shows have storylines about LGBT people. You’ve got ’Glee,’ ’The Fosters’ -- there are so many experiences being represented."
Positive Depictions of LGBTs in the Media
Trasandes was quick to name Ellen DeGeneres as one of the public figures who has done the most for the cause. "She’s so beloved," said Trasandes. "She’s so warm and funny and she’s done so much just by being herself. People feel like they know someone who’s gay because they watch Ellen." She pointed out that, in part because of positive media representations, "It’s becoming less controversial to talk about LGBT people. We’re more likely to be seen as people, rather than an ’issue.’"
But Trasandes acknowledged that there is still plenty of room for improvement. "These days, there are so many good representations in the news, but there’s still a lot to do in terms of entertainment and novellas. Some years in novellas there are a lot of LGBT characters, and some years there aren’t any."
Ellis pointed out that while it’s gotten easier to find positive representations of LGBT people on television, they’re still disappointingly scarce on the big screen. "I don’t think the representation in the movies has matched the level of representation in TV. Those stories are narrower and they don’t have as much opportunity to include LGBT characters alongside other storylines. The movie studios are more formulaic, because the investment is so deep that it’s dangerous to deviate from what’s tried and true."
In terms of television, she said, GLAAD would like to see more LGBT characters of color, particularly women of color, and more transgender characters. Both Ellis and Trasandes were adamant that fighting for more diverse and positive representations of LGBT people in the media is crucial to changing society and eradicating discrimination.
"What we want is not just media inclusion, but culture change," said Trasandes, mentioning issues ranging from housing discrimination to immigration reform. "We look at media as a way to help the culture become more accepting. In a perfect world, not only would you be protected from discrimination, but you wouldn’t have people who want to discriminate against you in the first place."
GLAAD believes that respectful portrayal of LGBT stories and struggles in the media is the first step toward making such a world achievable. Ellis looks forward to engaging with these issues head-on in her new position with GLAAD.
"We are at a critical moment," she said. "I want my children, and the children of LGBT families, to be able to see diverse families and families that look like themselves throughout the media. I want media to portray LGBT people and the world we live in in a real and meaningful way."
Trasandes, too, is motivated by thoughts of the next generation of LGBT people and their families.
"I think about a hypothetical young Latina lesbian, 15 or 16 years old. She needs the support and acceptance of her family, her community. She’s extremely vulnerable, and we don’t want her to drop out of school because she’s being bullied or end up on the street. A lot of my work is trying to make a better world for that young woman. I feel very fortunate that I am able to do this work in media. It’s how we will change our culture."
For more information, visit http://www.glaad.org/