Why Words and Images Matter: The GLAAD Media Awards at Work

03/23/2012 09:53 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

While riding the subway the other day, I was seated next to a young girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, and her father. "Twenty-eighth Street is next. And then 23rd. And then 18th," she told me. Apparently, even she could tell I wasn't a New Yorker.

Then, as the train came to a stop at the station (sure enough, 28th Street), her attention was drawn to a gay couple who boarded holding hands. She quieted.

"Do those men love each other?" she asked her father.

This could be interesting.

As I held my breath waiting for him to answer, I saw her eyes widen as she excitedly blurted out, "Like on Glee?!'"

He laughed. "Yes, like on Glee." She took another look at the pair and smiled.

The power of the media sometimes seems infinite. And for many Americans, the only LGBT people they know are those they meet on their favorite TV shows, while at the movies, or when sitting down to read the Sunday paper. It's those images that shape their opinions, and it's those same images that they take with them to the ballot box come voting time.

Take a look at some of the 2012 GLAAD Media Award nominees, then scroll down to keep reading:

2012 GLAAD Media Awards Nominees

That's why for over 25 years, GLAAD has worked through the media to share stories from the LGBT community that build support for equality, stories that help countless people -- from the mother in Idaho whose daughter just came out, to the bank teller in Mississippi whose colleague is transitioning, and even that little girl on the New York City subway -- understand that LGBT people are valuable members of our culture who should be embraced, supported, and equal under the law.

This week, GLAAD will honor those images and stories helping to change hearts and minds at the GLAAD Media Awards. The events, which help fund GLAAD's storytelling and media advocacy work, not only celebrate and recognize the best of the best in LGBT-inclusive journalism, film, music, television, and more; they also serve as a benchmark for the media industry, helping to improve representation and inspire more thoughtful depictions of the LGBT community throughout the year.

We've come a long way since the GLAAD Media Awards began in 1990 with seven categories and one honoree. Back then, Phil Donahue was one of the only media commentators brave enough to look at gay and lesbian people in an accurate and heartfelt way.

Today, we count 116 nominees in 25 English-language categories, and 35 Spanish-language nominees in 10 categories. Networks, movie studios, and news outlets actively jockey for a GLAAD Media Award and have pushed the envelope in order to reach and exceed these new industry standards. Images that reflect the diversity of our community, like Glee, Pariah, Las Aparicio, TV's first transgender teen on Degrassi, and Black Enterprise's cover story on being LGBT in corporate America, are celebrated and setting the bar high.

And there are the famous LGBT faces and allies. The GLAAD Media Awards offer a platform for Hollywood's biggest stars to speak out in support of equality. Can you imagine how powerful it is to be a young person, sitting at home watching Access Hollywood, and seeing your favorite celebrities telling you that it's OK to be who you are? Well, the hundreds of LGBT and mainstream press outlets that cover the GLAAD Media Awards go beyond asking, "Who are you wearing?" to ask, "Why and how do you support LGBT equality?"

This week in New York, GLAAD is honoring Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, producers who brought us such moving images as Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, Wedding Wars, and most recently Smash. Craig and Neil will address the attendees, including the 400 LGBT young people who see the shows each year, free of charge, thanks to underwriting from corporate partners, including Major League Baseball. Not only do the LGBT young adults get to meet some of their favorite stars, but they leave inspired thanks to honorees like Katy Butler. Katy will receive a Special Recognition Award this week for her work to create a Change.org campaign to call on the MPAA to change the rating of the film Bully from R to PG-13. That petition now boasts nearly half a million signatures.

It's no coincidence that as support for equality continues to increase, so too does the number of LGBT images on TV, at the movies, and in the news. And it's important that these images are accurate, compelling, and reflect the diversity of our community. That's the GLAAD Media Awards at work.