UPDATE: According to Politico, six members of the GLAAD Board of Directors are out, including American Teachers Federation President, Randi Weingarten.
GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios resigned Saturday after a tumultuous two weeks in which he was caught up in an uproar over the organization’s involvement in the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
Barrios came under fire from the LGBT blogosphere after an appearance on the Michelangelo Signorile show by former GLAAD board of directors co-chair Laurie Perper, who questioned a series of official statements released by Barrios’ office supporting telecommunications giant AT&T.
“The GLAAD Board has received Jarrett Barrios’ resignation letter and discussed this among other topics on our call. We expect at our next Board meeting set for Wednesday to reach a conclusion on all issues so that Mr. Barrios can begin to help The Board manage transition and bring on his successor,” the organization said in a statement.
But the story didn’t end with Barrios’ resignation, as several other LGBT organizations were pulled into the fray, either by close association to AT&T, a paper trail of their own similar letters or a connection to a GLAAD board member at the center of the controversy, Troup Coronado.
Coronado occupied seats on the boards of no less than four LGBT organizations in 2009, at the time the letters to the FCC began to emerge from these organizations’ head offices.
In 2009, when the letters containing the pro-AT&T language — later found to be opposing net neutrality — were delivered to the FCC, Coronado sat on the board of directors for GLAAD and the Equality California Institute, and served as dinner co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, according to Politico and other media reports this week. Each of these organizations sent seemingly innocuous, nearly identical letters to the FCC containing language supporting the telecom industry’s position against net neutrality.
The organizations, except for Equality California and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, sent follow-up letters to the FCC retracting their original letters after the matter was brought to their attention.
In addition, the Human Rights Campaign refused to support the telecom position by joining the sign-on letter, though Coronado also sat on HRC’s Business Council at the time. Coronado was later removed from the body in March 2010.
Meghan Stabler, a transgender LGBT activist, educator and Business Council member, said though Coronado’s departure was unrelated to the controversy surrounding the letter, his participation on the body was a factor.
“Each year the HRC Business Council reviews member participation and HRC Workplace Project objectives, doing so allows members to retire from the council and new members to be on-boarded as needed,” she said.
Coronado — who once worked for Orin Hatch — is turning out to be a controversial background player in the world of LGBT philanthropy. As reported last week in the Blade, both OpenSecrets.org and the Washington Post have questioned Coronado’s conduct in one way or another over the years.
After an investigation into Coronado’s past, the Blade has discovered that a Troup Coronado who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin the same year as AT&T’s Coronado, and whom an anonymous source confirmed is the same person, appeared in several CSPAN videos from 1991-1993 as a representative of the anti-gay conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation. Jeremy Hooper of the GoodAsYou blog was able to identify several instances of media outlets covering the Heritage Foundation opposition to pro-LGBT legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, and Heritage has been vocal in opposing same-sex marriage over the past decade. The CSPAN video gives Coronado’s title at the organization as Director of the New Majority Project.
The Heritage Foundation declined to comment about the purpose of this now-defunct program, but according to a July 14, 1991 Newsweek article by Charles Lane, titled “Defying the stereotypes,” the project is defined as the body’s “minority outreach program.”
A search of the Heritage Foundation archives reveals transcripts of presentations given on behalf of the program including controversial conservative figures such as Errol Smith, who would go on in 1996 to serve as vice chair of the California Civil Rights Initiative, which successfully pushed for a ballot measure prohibiting the use of so-called “Affirmative Action” at California public institutions. Coronado was present for Smith’s February 1992 speech before Heritage Foundation members on racism in the African-American community, and was referenced several times in the text of the speech.
In addition, CSPAN’s website features videos of Coronado acting as president of the Washington chapter of the Ex-Students Association of his alma mater, as well as another video introducing disgraced radio host Armstrong Williams, who later apologized for taking $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote the Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind” law on his television and radio appearances.
Coronado was once an executive at AT&T, as well as a lobbyist for AT&T’s former parent company, BellSouth. Coronado left his position at AT&T late last year to launch a consultant firm — where it is alleged one of his most prominent clients is AT&T. The company reportedly tasked Coronado with securing LGBT organizational support for the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.
Coronado could not be immediately reached for comment.
When reached by phone, Jim Carroll, interim executive director of Equality California — who came into the position far after the controversy broke — says the fallout from the Oct. 12, 2009 letter was a wake-up call for the organization.
“I’m not denying the genesis of the letter was a request from AT&T,” Carroll told the Blade. “There were and there are no policies and procedures that would require the executive director to vet such a request … I would assume that this is a wake-up call for all of us to carefully consider requests of support for any of our allies — it doesn’t have to be a corporate ally.”
The letter was never amended, as Carroll was unaware of the letter at the time, and the issue is only now coming to his attention.
Carroll confirms that Coronado remains on the board of the California Equality Institute, despite the controversy, though Carroll says that in his six years at the organization, he believes there has never been an incident where a board member with a corporate relationship has ever asked the organization to take a position on any issue that would be considered a conflict of interest, including Coronado.
However, Carroll has yet to hear from Coronado himself about the controversy, despite requesting a conversation with the board member days ago.
Another organization that recently revealed it too was duped by the AT&T sample text, was the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which has revamped its policies and procedures for vetting what are known as “sign-on letters,” from colleague organizations.
“I signed them and I take the responsibility for the mistake of issuing both the 2009 letter and the January 5, 2010 letter,” Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, told the Blade.
The Task Force issued a correction on Jan.14, after colleagues familiar with the net neutrality issue called Carey’s attention to the true meaning of the AT&T suggested language.
Carey clarified, “we get offered sample text, and language for sign-on letters,” by organizations seeking the Task Force’s support on matters of government policies and legislation, but “rarely get requests from corporations to write letters.”
“Almost always the request comes from a colleague organization — someone in ‘Labor,’ maybe a pro-choice organization, one of the civil rights organizations — those requests almost always come to me, and I forward them on to our Policy staff, and they assess them, and determine whether or not its appropriate for us to sign on to any particular letter,” Carey said.
However, when she saw the letter came from corporate partner, AT&T, Carey forwarded the sign-on letter to staff in charge of corporate relationships to review the request.
“That was the mistake I made,” she admits. “Our procedure now, no matter who on staff gets a request for a sign-on,” Carey clarified, “if there is a policy matter involved, our policy staff are involved in the full analysis and the decision on how to proceed.”
That procedural change was a direct result of the oversight on the Jan. 5 anti-net neutrality letter.
Fausto Fernos hosts the LGBT podcast, “Feast of Fun” with his partner, Marc Felion, where Jarrett Barrios first began giving conflicting statements about the origin of the GLAAD FCC letter.
“Most of our advocacy groups have a profound lack of understanding of how the Internet works, and why it’s valuable in the fight, and what it means to every single LGBT individual,” Fernos said. “We don’t value all of the amazing content that’s being created.”
Fernos became passionate about promoting this story because he believes that the AT&T position on net neutrality will create barriers to LGBT advocacy in the future.