Media, myths & inclusive representations
From The New York Times, to CNN, to Spanish-language media, GLAAD has helped promote fair, accurate and inclusive news coverage of LGBTQ people of color. Senior Director of Media Programs Rashad Robinson relates the importance of multi-dimensional representations of our diverse communities.
Tell me about yourself. How did you become an organizer, advocate and communicator?
I grew up in a family committed to social justice, so my introduction to advocacy was by attending NAACP meetings with my parents or going to church functions with my grandparents. I knocked on my first door for a political candidate at 11. At 17, I organized and lead a boycott against Rite Aid in my hometown of Riverhead, N.Y., because they refused to allow teens in their store during lunch hours. The boycott lasted four days before the store changed its policyand in the process I ended up appearing on page 2 of Newsday and on the largest ABC and NBC affiliates in the country. Through that process, I realized that I had the drive, the instincts and the potential to make change happen.
You currently serve as senior director of media programs at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). What role has GLAAD played nationally?
GLAAD is the media advocacy, education and relations arm of the LGBT movement. In that role we work to shape and improve public opinion on LGBT people and issues through engaging the media to tell our stories in fair, accurate and inclusive ways. Our work takes us to every part of the country and has us working with a diverse array of people and organizations. In the end, GLAAD is working toward a world where we have a fair chance to earn a living, be safe in our communities, serve our country and take care of the ones we love.
GLAAD has worked with media outlets over the years to ensure fair, accurate and inclusive representations of LGBT peopleincluding representations of Arab American & Middle Eastern people, Asian Pacific Islander people, communities of African descent, Latino/a communities and Native American/Two-Spirit Communities. How did these LGBTQ people of color media programs originate?
These programs developed out of a strategic planning process donated and facilitated by McKinsey & Company back in 2002. The programs were born out of a growing awareness that both GLAAD and the entire LGBT movement needed to become more intentional about reaching and engaging with African American, Latino/a, Asian Pacific Islander and other communities of color. Besides working with community media outlets and people of color-led LGBT organizations, our work has included public education and outreach campaigns aimed at non-LGBT people of color in order to increase support for family acceptance and inclusion.
What are some of the media representations about LGBTQ people of color that you seen in your daily work? What needs correcting?
We still see far too many mainstream media reports that paint people of color, African Americans in particular, as monolithically homophobicwhich ends up feeding a cycle of anger, frustration and distrust on all sides. GLAAD works daily to monitor news outlets for this kind of portrayals, educate media about these stereotypes and promote stories that examine how people think and feel about orientation and gender identity while acknowledging the multifaceted identities we all haveand how those identities shape our views.
We also see far too many news programs render LGBT people of color invisible. For instance, CNN's "Black in America" documentary did not include any stories of LGBT African American people and really only made mention of them when talking about HIV/AIDS. GLAAD is currently working with CNN to ensure that their planned 2010 documentary, "Gay in America," includes multidimensional portraits of LGBT people of color.
Spanish-language media is a major part of the media landscape in our country. Where are they in terms of LGBTQ representations?
Spanish language media is the fastest growing media market in the country. These outlets are more interested than ever in LGBT issues and are often doing good stories, but they sometimes struggle with terminology and context. We are seeing more multi-dimensional gay characters on novellas, but in other areas of entertainment we continue to see stereotypical portrayals and the use of LGBT people as fodder for jokes. We think there is a lot of progress to be made that will have a real impact on LGBT people not only in this country but also for the millions and millions who consume Spanish-language media worldwide.
This toolkit is exploring how funders can better promote racial equity in this country. I'm wondering if you could offer a current example of where GLAAD worked with a media outlet to promoting a fair, accurate and inclusive representation of LGBTQ people of color. What kinds of arguments and ideas did you offer? How was it resolved?
Let me give you a few examples: In September 2009, GLAAD advocated for the accurate representation of Leiomy Maldonado, an African American transgender woman, when her gender identity was attacked on MTV's America's Best Dance Crew. Leiomy was a contestant on the show and was insensitively and inaccurately derided by one of the show's judges, who said, "You were born a man and you are becoming a woman." GLAAD contacted MTV, and after a slow response on their part, we issued a call to action, which ultimately led to the judge issuing an apology to Leiomy and to the transgender community.
We partnered with California State NAACP President Alice Huffman to pen a letter to the editor on race and marriage equality and place it into The New York Times. The letter was written in response to the Times' article "Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Tied to Obama Factor," which linked the potential success of California's Proposition 8 marriage amendment to an increase in black voters on Election Day. Huffman's letter, which reached the Times' 1.4 million daily readers, critiqued the article for portraying African American people as monolithically homophobic and not examining the differences and attitudes among specific demographics within the African American community. We continue to follow up with The New York Times to ensure they don't repeat myths about Black Voters and LGBT issues.
We also published an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that dealt with this very topic: "Black Voters, Gay Issues and the Truth." We are also working with BET on a documentary they are airing next year on homophobia in the Black community, and we provided background and resources for the filmmakers so they can get this story right.
In Spanish-language media, we recently worked with Don Francisco Presenta, the hugely popular night-time Spanish-language talk show, on an episode focusing on so-called "ex-gays." As a result of our outreach, the show's producers booked numerous guests who told stories about the pain and the mental, emotional and spiritual pain these programs cause.
We also worked with Paparazzi TV Sensacional on a story regarding adoption by gay couples. We trained the couple who went on and worked with producers. The result was a strong story that showed millions of viewers what many of us see every day: how loving, caring gay parents put their kids and their family first (in this case they adopted two premature girls and were in hospital for two months with the girls as they grew large enough to leave hospital). Happily, the story of this family was not marred by the presence of anti-gay activists.
At GLAAD, you've also overseen the implementation of its Religion, Faith and Values Media Programs. How have you seen religious values and LGBTQ issues play out among communities of color in the media?
Religion and faith are central to how most Americans form their values and develop their views on the world. Some of my earliest memories are of going to church with family or listening to a gospel choir. For us at GLAAD, we believe that in order to create cultural change, we have to understand and work with the institutions that shape it. Much of the work that our Religion, Faith and Values program does is amplify the voices of LGBT people of faith and their allies to tell their stories in the media, helping to create more understand and acceptance. We specifically work with faith leaders of color who want to be visible in these conversations, understanding the important differences of religion and faith across different racial, ethnic and cultural groups.
In your previous role, you served as national communications director for the Right to Vote Campaign, a national collaboration of eight major civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, People for the American Way and the ACLU, working on voter disenfranchisement. What do you believe is the role of major civil rights organizations in addressing LGBTQ rights? In supporting LGBTQ communities of color?
LGBT people of color have been involved in the work and life of civil rights organizations since the beginning. The NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, recently created an LGBT task force, and I have seen a lot of progress as civil rights groups have supported our movement's work and fought with us against anti-gay ballot initiatives.
I think the best thing civil rights groups can do to support LGBT people of color is to speak out against homophobianot just in LGBT inclusive spaces, but in spaces that may not be so friendly to that message. It is important that the concrete harms that LGBT people of color face due to lack of family acceptance or being excluded from their community is part of the ongoing conversations these organizations and leaders are having with their members and the larger public.
What are some successesin our society, in our political movements, in the mediathat you'd like to see in your lifetime?
I hope to live in a society where people have the opportunity to take care of and be fully part of their families, to have access to quality education and healthcare, and to participate in the full life of their community, regardless who they are or who they love.
Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?
It is important that we look at these issues from an intersectional perspective and understand the concrete harms that LGBT people of color face due to discrimination based on many aspects of who they are: race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. Understanding the interconnectedness of these discriminations will lead to more effective strategies for counteracting both the legal and structural inequalities that still exist for so many.
I think it is also important to examine how technology is breaking down these barriers, educating new audiences and reaching exponentially more people with messages about the common ground we all share. While this technology is giving many of our campaigns and advocacy efforts greater reach and more impact, we still face challenges closing the digital divide and ensuring all of us have a seat at the "digital table."
Rashad Robinson, Senior Director of Media Programs, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) (New York, NY)
Rashad Robinson serves as Senior Director of Media Programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the national LGBT media advocacy and anti-defamation organization. Before joining GLAAD in 2005, Rashad served as National Communications Director for the Right to Vote Campaign, a national collaboration of eight major civil rights organizations working on voter disenfranchisement.
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