Not long after Herndon Graddick took the helm of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), at a time of deep uncertainty for the organization, the former TV producer did something that many LGBTs had been waiting years for. Graddick chastised news outlets for allowing vehemently anti-gay activists onto the air without contextualizing who they were or why their comments were relevant to an issue.
For many, Graddick has come to represent a new era for GLAAD, which found itself embroiled in controversy in June 2011 after news broke that the organization endorsed an AT&T/ T-Mobile merger after accepting money from AT&T. But staff turnover, including that of the president, has signaled change at GLAAD.
Graddick recently passed through Chicago and took a few moments to talk with Windy City Times about what LGBTs can expect from the organization in the coming months.
Windy City Times: How are the folks at GLAAD holding up in the wake of the hurricane?
Herndon Graddick: The office is closed. People are working from home. I think New York without power is pretty shocking, but it seems as if everyone is holding up.
WCT: So, what brings you to Chicago?
Herndon Graddick: It's part of a bigger plan of really reconnecting the supporters of GLAAD who over the years have really funded our work and social and cultural change. I think that as the new president of GLAAD, part of my job is really effectively creating the work we do to the people who support us because in many ways, the work that we do is behind the scenes.
Part of what I'm doing is introducing myself, introducing a new vision of what GLAAD is. GLAAD has been around for about 25 years, and when it came into existence it was very needed around the outright defamation of what was largely gay men dying of AIDS. Over the course of time, of course, our mission has evolved.
WCT: What are some of the media trends you're watching this election season?
Herndon Graddick: Well, we launched this Commentator Accountability Project in February. You know, I come from a news position. People say that journalists are lazy, and you know, that is the furthest thing from the truth. It's about deadlines and dramatically reduced budgets and resources really being dwindled down. So particularly in organizations like Cable News, the opportunity to do real in-depth research on every guest, particularly some of these anti-gay activists, it's not practical.
What our aim was to do was provide a resource. Here's all the things that they've said. We're not putting any sort of lens on it so they can use it without fear of bias and hold people's feet to the fire.
WCT: You've also really come out swinging on some these commentators. Are we seeing a strategy change or a culture shift with how GLAAD is going to handle these issues?
Herndon Graddick: Yeah, there is. I think that we should not pussyfoot around certain issues. I think there are certain issues where we have to really have backbone about. There should be no watered-down version of who these people are. If these people were making the same analogies towards any other group of people, they would be pariahs. But they're not. Well, I mean, they weren't. I would say the past year they have become pariahs.
WCT: Do you think this is the last election where it will socially acceptable to be really anti-gay?
Herndon Graddick: I have heard it said before that this is going to be the last election where LGBT people are used as a wedge issue, and we see it again and again. I believe it will be a longtime project to maintain the social and cultural viewpoints that are necessary for LGBT equality to really hold and remain.
WCT: Roseanne [Barr] sent a lot of anti-trans tweets [last] week. Is GLAAD responding to that?
Herndon Graddick: In the end, what we have to do is be aware of what our voice is and the amplitude of voice and make decisions about what to do from a public standpoint with that in mind. So to that point, a sort of GLAAD-versus-Roseanne public feud would likely bring more attention to what I think are dangerous points of view put forth about trans women. I think there is a value in not engaging publicly in a tit-for-tat.
WCT: So I am taking that to mean that you are engaging with Roseanne privately?
Herndon Graddick: You know, our goal in a lot of these things is to give people the emotional space and frankly ego space to come around on something without it appearing that their coming around to it was the result of a public chastisement from GLAAD. So the Roseanne thing is something that we're monitoring and figuring out the best way to have a conversation.
WCT: Is there anything at GLAAD that Chicago folks should be apprised of?
Herndon Graddick: Well, one thing I'll just tease for you is that, GLAAD's name from when I started there, I really viewed in many ways. It's got a lot of strength in that it's probably the most highly recognized brands … but there are weaknesses in that it's exclusionary. It's GL [gay and lesbian]. And then the other thing is that its focus is really exclusively negative. The language of that carried with it baggage from the '70s that might be able to be improved upon. So I think that over the next weeks and perhaps months, we're going to make some changes that will keep the brand's strength and recognition but incorporate the things that are missing and de-emphasize the weaknesses that I've talked about.
See www.glaad.org .