Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The 'D' in GLAAD

Plenty of jokes are made about the acronym for which I work... Many people, upon first asking me what I do and where I work, believe I sell reusable plasticware. Many others know that it's a gay organization, but don't really think about what it stands for or what we do... beyond helping the gays.

Well, in case anyone reading this isn't clear, I'm going to clarify a couple things right now. I don't mean to take this blog in any kind of political direction, but as I sit at my desk and process the phone call I just had to overhear, I need an outlet where I can vent. (And fear not loyal readers, this blog will go back to "fun stuff" in no time - Thanksgiving is fast approaching, after all.)

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

We exist, and have since 1985, to promote and ensure fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. I am the Grants and Research Manager here, and I just celebrated my two year anniversary at GLAAD with a nice promotion. Like any other organization, we have our ups and downs and group dynamic dysfunctions - but no matter what, I love the mission of this place, and I know firsthand how important and necessary our work is.

It's sometimes hard to sum up what we do because we're an advocacy organization. Meaning, we're not feeding or clothing anyone, nor are we teaching kids to read... Instead, we are in the business of shaping media images -- whether it's national news (CNN, The New York Times), regional news (your local CBS affiliate, your local newspaper), entertainment media (Grey's Anatomy, People magazine), media outlets in communities of color (Sing Tao Daily, La Opinion, Washington Informer), for people of faith (Associated Baptist Press), or for young adults (CosmoGIRL!, ABC Family) -- because we know that whether its consciously or subconsciously, what people see on TV or read in the paper shapes how they view and treat gay people. We at GLAAD see that as an opportunity (and a responsibility) to make sure those images foster awareness, understanding, and respect.

Sometimes people come to us - reporters, producers, editors - they come to us to look for story ideas about gay and transgender people; or maybe they want to interview a newly married California couple with kids (and yes, we have a database of people that fit a variety of criteria that we have provided Media Literacy Training to for just these occasions); or maybe they are unclear about terminology and want to make sure they don't use an offensive term (did you know that the terms 'gay' and 'lesbian' are preferred over 'homosexual?' Why? Because of the clinical history of the word. It has been adopted by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay men and women are somehow psychologically disordered - a notion discredited by the APA in the 1970s.)

But sometimes (dun, dun, duuuunnn) - we have to reach out to reporters, producers, and editors. Every day at my office (and at our sister office in NY) people are monitoring every type of media you can imagine. People here get paid to read stuff and watch stuff. (And we have a volunteer army of media monitors across the country.) When we see or hear offensive things - for example, terms like sexual preference, homosexual lifestyle, admitted homosexual, gay agenda, special rights, fag, dyke, tranny, he-she, deviant, perverted, or equating same-sex relationships with pedophilia, child abuse, adultery or incest - WE STEP IN!

GLAAD believes absolutely in the freedom of speech - but we draw the line at hate speech. If someone writes or airs a defamatory piece of journalism, it is time to pick up the phone and educate the powers that be what they did to offend. (I don't know the statistics off hand, but a great many of these phone calls go very smoothly - often times the person on the other end is apologetic, did not know the correct terminology, and makes the requested changes immediately.)

An hour or so ago, the friend and co-worker that I sit beside had to make a defamation call to The Daily of the University of Washington. This was my first time witnessing a defamation call. (I have only been sitting by this man since the beginning of the month - my promotion came with a bigger cube on this side of the office.) I did not expect to be so affected. I mean, sure, I have good days and bad days at GLAAD - sometimes I can just come in and do my work without dealing with too much homophobia - but other days are downright shitty. This was pretty shitty.

The title of the piece is called, "Gay Marriage? Let's stop and think about this."
This is the accompanying picture:

The piece is an opinion piece, and it is so poorly argued it should not make me mad... I get that... but the conversation I had to hear... it lasted approximately 25 minutes or so. I was sealing 200 envelopes at my desk, a mindless, redundant task that practically forced me to eavesdrop...

And so I endured listening to my co-worker repeatedly having to explain why it is defamatory to equate two consenting adults who love each other and want to marry to bestiality and child rape... I had to listen to him explain that being gay is actually NOT an "emotional condition"... I sat here and heard him defend gay people from the description that they are "a problem that needs to be dealt with."

So here I am an hour after I should have left work... blogging. The only things that bring me solace are the comments left for the "writer," and the tenacity of my awesome co-workers who deal with these issues so professionally day in and day out. (Though I must say, as time goes by, and in no small part thanks to GLAAD, the defamation calls grow fewer and fewer.)

It did not sound like a happy ending from this side of the cube wall - I don't think the editor over at The Daily agreed to remove the offensive piece.

It's just so disturbing to me - I may have the privilege of being a well-adjusted and secure gay adult who knows fallacious arguments when I see them... but there are plenty of others (straight and gay) who see these words and take them to have value because they are in print.

The 'D' in GLAAD stands for defamation, and tonight, I understand a little better what it feels like.


Jamie said...

I'm very proud of the work you do.

Thanks for sharing.

Caroline said...

Thanks for writing this. It's a long uphill battle, but we're going to get there. And we're going to get there even faster thanks to the amazing work you do every day.

Lori said...

Jen, all this time I thought you were an archaeologist. Boy, was I confused. You do amazing work and this blog made me cry! Thanks.