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  WINDY CITY TIMES

GLAAD under fire for backing merger
by Erica Demarest
2011-06-15

This article shared 3318 times since Wed Jun 15, 2011
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The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) came under fire last week, following a turbulent media storm that's left many second-guessing the organization's leadership and goals. Amid allegations of mismanagement and trading corporate favors, some activists have called for President Jarrett Barrios to resign.

On May 31, GLAAD submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsing the impending merger between telecom giants AT&T and T-Mobile. Although opponents say the controversial alliance will create a monopoly and drive up consumer prices, GLAAD lobbied on behalf of the deal. In a letter that reads like a press release for AT&T, Barrios said the merger would create "more access, faster service, and competitive pricing" that would augment online activism efforts.

GLAAD's endorsement left many baffled. It seemed odd that a leading LGBT-activism group would take a stance on a corporate business deal, and many began to question whether AT&T's recent donation of $50,000 to GLAAD motivated the endorsement.

Sirius XM OutQ radio host Michelangelo Signorile invited Laurie Perper, a former GLAAD board co-chair, to his talk show June 7 to help clarify GLAAD's support. Perper, who resigned from her post in October 2009 (one month after Barrios took helm of the organization), made serious allegations and called for GLAAD to be dissolved.

"The brand name has been so tarnished at this point that it can't be revived even if you could find a way to go in and replace the board and the president," Perper said. "I'm of the opinion that the organization needs to go away and stop using gay dollars."

Perper claimed Barrios was an ineffective leader who seriously jeopardized GLAAD's fundraising efforts. She said his poor management led to the resignation of more than a dozen board members and senior staffers, and she claimed Barrios traded favors with Troup Coronado, a GLAAD board member who once served as vice president of external affairs for AT&T. Perper's allegations made waves in the blogosphere, with writers at The Atlantic, Queerty and the Bilerico Project weighing in.

"Laurie's claims should not be reported as facts," GLAAD Communications Director Rich Ferraro told Windy City Times in an email. "In fact, they are verifiably incorrect." The organization released a press statement June 7 that attempted to debunk Perper's allegations, calling them "factually inaccurate, uninformed and misleading."

GLAAD released financial data that showed fundraising efforts improving over the past year. To negate Perper's claims that corporate backing has dwindled, GLAAD highlighted its work with IBM and American Airlines and said 2011 corporate support was "breaking records."

Still, many questioned the group's allegiance to AT&T. Signorile asked Barrios to appear on his OutQ talk show June 8, but Barrios refused to be interviewed unless he could be accompanied by Gary Bitner, a GLAAD board member who heads one of the largest public-relations firms in Florida. Signorile rejected interviewing the pair, saying Bitner would "coach" Barrios.

Ferraro claims that was never the goal. "The president cannot speak on behalf of the board regarding board matters, which is what much of Laurie Perper's interview was about," Ferraro emailed. He told Bilerico last week: "If [Barrios] were to be asked, 'Does the board support you?,' the board didn't feel comfortable with Jarrett saying, 'Yeah, the board supports me.'"

Bitner said in the same interview that Barrios is taking GLAAD in the right direction. "We had difficult economic times in 2009," Bitner said, citing the group's $1.2 million deficit. "But we're ahead of budget this year, and we're in a more solid place fiscally than we've been in years."

Complicating matters further is an anti-net neutrality letter Barrios sent the FCC on Jan. 4, 2010. Net neutrality is the concept that Internet access should be free of restrictions from both Internet service providers and the government. GLAAD has long supported net neutrality, but AT&T opposes the measure, which would limit its financial gains.

On Jan. 15, 2010, Barrios sent the FCC a second letter asking that his Jan. 4 statement be retracted. "I have never seen this letter," Barrios wrote, "and it is not my signature. Furthermore, the contents of the letter do not accurately reflect the views of our organization."

Perper mentioned the Jan. 4 letter in her OutQ interview last week, but Barrios denied having ever seen or approved it. He later changed his story, admitting the letter did come from his office and he did approve it—albeit accidentally. "We made a mistake," Barrios told Bilerico. "I authorized my assistant over the phone to sign and submit [the] letter… When I realized she had inadvertently submitted an anti-net neutrality letter, I withdrew it. At the time, I had never seen the letter that was filed, and did not recognize the signature."

GLAAD released a statement June 3 saying it does not endorse AT&T's net neutrality position, but still supports the AT&T and T-Mobile merger.

Regardless of the group's stance on AT&T, many are left marveling at GLAAD's apparent disorganization. Adam Polaski of Bilerico said, "For a media organization to be this off-message and out of sync with its various parts is disconcerting and leaves more questions than answers."


This article shared 3318 times since Wed Jun 15, 2011
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