THE BLOG

The GLAAD Media Awards - Gay Media Need Not Apply

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

Every year The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) hands out its Media Awards in a star-studded Hollywood gala that increasingly looks like a gay Oscars. But this year a cloud hangs over GLAAD's red carpet. A nasty little secret has come to light that many in the industry were shocked to hear.

That secret is that Here! and Logo, the nation's two gay TV networks, are not allowed to submit their programs for consideration to the GLAAD Media Awards.

You heard that right. According to GLAAD's rules, programs made by and for the nation's two gay TV networks are not eligible for GLAAD media awards. Precisely because those networks are run by - and targeted to - lesbians and gay men, and are therefore 'alternative.'

GLAAD might as well hang out a sign saying: Queer Networks Need Not Apply.

GLAAD's policy of anti-gay exclusion also applies to the lesbian and gay print media, including respected national publications like Out and The Advocate. (Full disclosure: I received a GLAAD Media Award in the 90s, but it was for my work at NY Newsday, a mainstream newspaper.)

Stephen Macias, VP of Here!, exposed the bizarre policy when he sent a blistering open letter to GLAAD this week, blasting the gay group's anti-gay exclusion.

Macias pointed out that the massive reach of the new gay media, including Here! and Logo, render old labels like 'mainstream' and 'alternative' totally obsolete.

He also made the damning point that the NAACP wouldn't dream of excluding Black Entertainment Television from its Image Awards. Can you imagine if they did?

So what is GLAAD thinking? Nick Adams, GLAAD's head of pr for the Media Awards, sent me an email explanation.

For starters, Adams wrote that it would be "unfair" to place the mainstream media in competition against gay networks and publications.

"Rather than raising the bar for the quality of coverage," he wrote, "it would likely discourage mainstream media outlets who felt they could never compete against a media outlet whose sole purpose is to tell LGBT stories to a largely LGBT audience."

Wow. So if the gay media were eligible, this reasoning goes, someone at NBC or HBO might kill a gay-themed project by saying: "Forget it. We could never do it as well as Logo and win a GLAAD Award."

Marcias, who used to work at GLAAD himself, pointed out that GLAAD'S stance implicitly endorses a lower standard for the mainstream media than for gay outlets, which is pretty weird when gay groups traditionally demand an equal playing field for gays and everybody else.

But the real reason, I suspect, came later in Adams' note.

GLAAD and its awards, he wrote, focus on "those whose attitudes about our right to fairness, dignity and equality we must work to transform."

In other words, GLAAD sees its awards as a way of cajoling mainstream media types into treating gays better. If you're a straight producer who has accepted a gay award in front of hundreds of cheering queers, the idea goes, you will be less likely to dump on those same people in your next broadcast.

By that reasoning, GLAAD doesn't think it needs to cajole the gay media into doing the right thing. The gay media do the right thing by dint of their very existence. So why waste awards on them?

Well, let me suggest why.

GLAAD was founded to advance gay visibility and fairness in the media, and to reward excellence in the coverage of lesbian and gay issues. Excellence is excellence, even if it springs from outlets run by and for gays. You'd think a gay group would not just know that, they would celebrate it.

For a gay media group to reinforce outdated divisions, and shove into the shadows those who do the most to advance visibility, is archaic, absurd and insulting to its own community.

GLAAD is a great organization that does valuable work, but this strange and grotesque policy is a stain on its good name. And nobody who cares about fairness should be glad about that.