As I write, I hear Barbara Walters and Lady Gaga on “The View” chatting about Gaga’s being a godmother to Elton John and his partner David Furnish’s baby Zachary. Googling, I see a “New York Times” interactive feature “The Coming Out Project” — a video of LGBT teens talking about being queer.
“The View” folks adore Sir Elton and Furnish and give a thumbs-up to Gaga as godmother. The Zachary having two dads thing? It doesn’t come up in the ladies’ “hot topics” — Gaga’s outfit’s the big dish.
The Times says it “embarked” on the project “as an effort to better understand this generation’s realities and expectations, and to give teenagers their own voice in the conversation.” The paper contacted a diverse cross-section of more than 100 LGBT youth.
These are some of the countless stories appearing daily in the media in which LGBT folk of all ages are depicted as three-dimensional human beings, and being queer is portrayed as being a normal part of every day life. And, I haven’t mentioned movies such as “The Kids Are All Right” or TV shows like “Glee” and “Modern Family” (that often have queer folk in front of or behind the cameras), which have engaging, non-stereotypical LGBT characters. These characters, like many straight and gay viewers, work, dance, eat dinner, gossip, fall in love, quarrel with their partners, and have children.
If you’re queer and under 25, I imagine, none of this is surprising to you. You’ve grown up with Ellen, “Will and Grace,” Adam Lambert on “American Idol,” gay actors coming out every nano-second, the glam of “Glee,” and online you’ve seen many news stories about LGBT youth coming out and bullying of queer students in the schools.
But, for those of us LGBT folk who are past the quarter-century mark, such stories in news or entertainment media would have been unthinkable (even undreamed of) as recently as the year of your birth.
Twenty-five years ago, even the Times, the best paper in the country, used “homosexual” instead of “gay.” “Variety” didn’t name surviving spouses in same-sex couples in its obituaries. LGBT characters, if present on TV, were usually in the stereotypical vein of Jack, the hetero chef pretending to be a “flaming homosexual” on “Three’s Company.” Media coverage of people with AIDS was unspeakably inaccurate and demeaning.
One day during that time, I was on the subway with my friend David, who sang in a church choir and loved Broadway musicals. “Fuck them for saying that about us!” he screamed on seeing yet another tabloid story saying people with AIDS were sex fiends and drug addicts. “How do we stop them?”
Fortunately, for the LGBT community, in 1985 a group of queer activists, including the late Vito Russo, author of “The Celluloid Closet,” banded together to protest the “New York Post’s” sensationalized AIDS coverage. (“Post” headlines of the time included “Junkie AIDS Victim was Housekeeper at Bellevue.”) The protesters formed the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The group “put pressure on media organizations to end … the homophobic reporting that unfairly blamed gay men for the AIDS crisis,” Rich Ferraro, GLAAD director of communications, wrote in an e-mail to the Blade.
Since then, GLAAD has worked on the national and regional levels with journalists, producers, writers and filmmakers for accurate representation of queer people in the media. Its Media Awards (given to news and entertainment media for pushing the envelope on LGBT issues) draw so much attention that some movie studios and networks “campaign for recognition,” Ferraro said in a telephone interview.
Media coverage is incredibly better than it was 25 years ago, but “there’s still a lot of work to do,” Ferraro said. “Transgender people … are underrepresented, and media overlook LGBT people of color.”
True. There’s a long way to go. But, aren’t you glad we have GLAAD?