The first thing you discover about Herndon Graddick, the new president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is that he’s direct and plainspoken —he doesn’t mince words the way more seasoned LGBT leaders do.
Earlier this week, Graddick told Europe’s Gay Star News, “I think it’s finally time for us to grab our power and really use it and make sure that we’re not sort of treated as second-class citizens anymore. I intend to do that in this role at GLAAD.”
He added that when he finally met other gay people after moving to California at 19, he was “pissed off.”
“Everything I had been taught was essentially bullshit,” he said of his epiphany upon coming out and realizing that LGBT youth were being taught they should remain in the closet.
Graddick worked for Current TV, CNN and at a global climate change initiative before becoming GLAAD’s vice president of programs and communication in 2010.
His determination and spirit match those of grassroots activists on the ground, rather than someone trying to appease finicky donors and politicians. And the honesty is a far cry from the political calculus of former President Jarrett Barrios, who resigned in June 2011 after a scandal regarding his role in pushing the FCC to approve AT&T-backed initiatives.
Graddick sat down with the Blade to discuss his role at GLAAD since that time and his vision for the future.
WASHINGTON BLADE: What was your role at the organization before being picked by the board for this position?
HERNDON GRADDICK: I was the head of programs and communications, so I oversaw all of our activist work, basically everything but the fundraising and sort of the physical operations of the organization, so everything we do in the movement.
BLADE: You’ve got a thorough handle on the inner workings of the organization, especially in terms of the programming?
GRADDICK: Yes I have. One of the reasons why I wanted to do this job is I feel like the work we’ve done in the past year has been really making a difference, and I’ve felt really satisfied by that. So I wanted to put my name in the ring for the president’s spot because I want that to continue and I wanted to do even more of it. And so it’s really a product of my believing in the work that I put myself up for this job. I’m humbled and take with seriousness the duties that the role has.
BLADE: What would you list as GLAAD’s biggest successes in the last year?
GRADDICK: The media awards are, as you know, how we support our work. They’re a fundraiser, they get the most attention in the U.S. and in the world, because celebrities are inevitably what people pay the most attention to. But GLAAD’s work is from the grassroots to the local, state and national levels. Some of that work gets a lot of attention in the press, and some of it doesn’t. But nonetheless all of it is important.
I would say that our Commentator Accountability Project that we just launched is something that’s really important to me, and works toward what I wanted to do when I came to GLAAD. To hold anti-gay activists accountable to the full breadth of their animus toward the gay community, and give journalists an easy access resource of what these anti-gay people have actually said.
And recently, Miss Universe has agreed to change their rules to allow the inclusion of transgender women, and we’re waiting to see the details of that, but we’ve gotten the full-throated promise from them that those details were coming, and I think that the fact that transgender women are now going to be participating alongside everybody else in the Miss Universe pageant, is a sign of the times that the world is changing to view LGBT people just like anybody else.
I could really go on and on about different things that I’ve been proud of, but I think in general our mission is creating a media where LGBT people can thrive, and where LGBT youth don’t have their self-esteem dictated by negative portrayals in the media and we’re able to be happy and live our lives just like anybody else.
BLADE: GLAAD’s had some great highs in the past year, but also some lows. How do you plan to continue to repair GLAAD’s public image in the LGBT community?
GRADDICK: Well, I’ve been really flattered and humbled by the press that we’ve received around our recent changes, and when I read that press, what I really think is what people are speaking to now is the strength of our programmatic work in the last nine months, and I think that people are really noticing that the work that we’re doing is having an impact. So I’m really encouraged by that, and I take inspiration in that. And my personal view is that we’re all in this together, and so I’m really grateful for the work that activists and bloggers and other movement organizations — it feels like we’re working together better than I’ve seen in the past, and I’m really encouraged by that.
I really look forward to working with the movement and the blogosphere and the LGBT press. Let’s keep our eye on the ball, and let’s fight for LGBT equality, and keep our sense of who the enemy is, and that’s people who would deprive us of all the rights and privileges that are afforded to every other American. I really take great pride in the fact that I’m in this position of helping to do so. I thank everybody out there for their individual efforts, and GLAAD is always open to hear the support, the advice and the criticism telling us where we can do things better and differently. I welcome that.
BLADE: What is your vision for GLAAD going forward?
GRADDICK: I think that over the years GLAAD has been a really effective force for the inclusion of fair and accurate portrayals of LGBT people in media, and my intention is to continue to be that. I think we’ve both been a defensive force against defamation, I think the time is now not just to be defensive, but to really go on the offensive, because we’re sick of not being treated like everybody else, and Americans are behind us and I think that if you really put your finger in the air, you can feel something changing in America. And so it’s my chance to be the tip of the spear — along with other movement organizations and bloggers and activists — to really make sure that this isn’t about asking for us to be treated fairly, it’s about demanding and insuring that we are treated fairly. So my interest in being the head of GLAAD is making sure that happens.