June 22, 2015 at 6:01 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
GLAAD chief seeks to ‘create a culture’ to improve LGBT lives

Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD, gay news, Washington Blade

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said Monday work remains for LGBT advocates to “create a culture” to improve the lives of LGBT people throughout the country regardless of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage.

The head of the LGBT media watchdog group made the remarks during an event at the National Press Club days before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide.

“We want to accelerate acceptance of the LGBT community,” Ellis said. “No matter the way that SCOTUS rules, we still have to create a culture in which LGBT Americans can live.”

Ellis said efforts to change the culture and will help efforts to change policy to achieve non-discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“Marriage equality is just that,” Ellis said. “It’s marriage equality, and it’s a benchmark. It’s not a finish line, and we know at GLAAD that you cannot legislate acceptance, and that’s why we’re so focused on accelerating acceptance.”

Ellis drew attention to a bus tour her organization undertook this month to promote LGBT visibility in the South, which is seen as one of the final bastions of opposition to LGBT rights. According to Ellis, GLAAD toured toured six states and 10 cities in seven days.

“We met with community leaders, we premiered two mini-documentaries and we met with church and faith leaders and had a very vibrant conversation on how to help accelerate acceptance in the South,” Ellis said.

One particular point that Ellis made was efforts to enhance transgender visibility, saying that was an issue among those she met along the way during her Southern tour.

“When we were on this Southern bus tour, just this last week, I had a young woman come up to me who’s trans who said, ‘I didn’t even know what I was until two years ago,'” Ellis said. “She didn’t see it, she hadn’t heard of it, she knew that what she felt inside wasn’t lining up with her body, but she wasn’t aware of what transgender even met. So, I think even building visibility about what transgender is increases hopefully the people who are living in pain right now, who are potentially suicide candidates, under who they are, accept who they are and see that they can live in this world happily.”

Ellis presented data from a Harris Poll made public earlier this year finding 80 percent of the non-LGBT public agrees that despite victories on marriage, more work remains to change hearts and minds on LGBT issues.

For example, the poll found one-third of Americans would be uncomfortable attending a same-sex wedding, and 22 percent said they would be very uncomfortable. A substantially larger group, 43 percent, said they would be uncomfortable bringing a child to a same-sex wedding.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade on the best mechanism for making change happen, the head of the LGBT media watchdog group pointed to depictions in TV and film.

“I think a lot of it is through meeting LGBT people, and we do that through TV shows, we do it through movies,” Ellis said. “Movies are one of America’s biggest global cultural exports, so we’re doing a lot of work with movie studios to have them be more inclusive because they don’t get a good rating on being inclusive in high-production studio movies. Another is by telling the stories of everyday people that we know and who have done extraordinary of live ordinary lives in the face of adversity, and this way people get to know people who are LGBT.”

The decision of Caitlyn Jenner to come out publicly as transgender was an example of highly visible media coverage that had the potential to change the perception of LGBT people, Ellis said. According to GLAAD, the broadcast of the ABC News interview with Jenner was seen by 20 million people.

Ellis said before that interview, eight percent of Americans said they knew someone who was transgender. Now the organization is in the market seeking data on how that changed the needle.

“Getting people like that who can do positive portrayals in the press is really important to moving acceptance forward,” Ellis said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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