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Sad Day at GLAAD: Gay Media Watchdog Lays Off 25% of Employees

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Monday Jan 23, 2012
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It was recently announced that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) laid off nearly 25 percent of its employees due to a slowly recovering economy and lack of donations. Many employees did not see the changes coming, however, the Advocate reported in a Jan. 20 article.

The organization let go 11 people from its 45-member staff but says its "core programs," such as Entertainment Media, Religion Faith & Values and National and Local News, have not gone away.

"It’s no secret that GLAAD experienced some real challenges in 2011," Mike Thompson, GLAAD’s interim president told the Advocate. "While the changes that took place subsequent to last summer’s tumult were in many ways healthy for the organization, the reality is that the experience had financial impacts for the organization. Our restructuring is reflective of that."

Someone who had been a key member in forming the GLAAD mission and a high up during its informative years said that the organization had a lot of internal dissension. Many members questioned if it was appropriate to accept donations from businesses GLAAD was supposed to monitor.

In addition, the former GLAAD member also claimed that they were not surprised of the massive layoff.

Last summer GLAAD became enmeshed in a corporate merger that tarnished its image as an unbiased media watchdog. After sending a statement to the U.S. Justice Department supporting the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, activists and others wondered aloud what the organization had to do with the cell phone companies and why they were backing the merger, since it had nothing to do with being "pro-gay," EDGE reported in a July 2011, article.

Jarrett Barrios, GLAAD’s president at the time, wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of the merger. It was later discovered that Barrios wrote another letter to the FCC a year earlier backing AT&T’s stance on net neutrality. Several people began to speculate that Barrios and the cooperation were working too closely together. When Barrios tried to backtrack and even blamed his secretary, he was widely ridiculed.

On June 2011, after only working at GLAAD for two years, Barrios "resigned" along with eight members of the organization’s board of directors. One of the board members was Troup Coronado, a former AT&T lobbyist who worked for ant-gay groups as well as AT&T.

Barrios was once a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate and was in charge Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest private health provider.

A few months before the AT&T and T-Mobile drama, GLAAD was involved in another controversy with ABC and "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert. Some criticized what they saw as the organization’s non-response to ABC’s cutting Lambert from "Good Morning America" after he kissed a male bandmate during his American Music Awards performance, EDGE reported.

"It would appear that the kiss between Adam Lambert and his keyboardist did not factor into ABC’s decision," Barrios wrote in a statement. "ABC has a history of positive gay and transgender inclusion that includes featuring kisses between gay and lesbian couples on-air."

Activists instantly slammed GLAAD and saw this as a sign that the organization was giving into ABC’s views and demands. GLAAD quickly responded to the allegations and said, "GLAAD has consistently advocated that Adam Lambert and openly gay artists not be held to a double standard." Nevertheless, Lambert was still not welcomed on the morning show.

CBS’s "Early Show," however, swooped in and booked Lambert, which resulted in high ratings.

GLAAD was founded in 1985 in New York City and has developed a number of successful programs that have helped educate the American public about LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

The person (who asked to remain anonymous) who had been present in the workings of GLAAD told EDGE that there had been internal discussions about whether the organization was relying too heavily on corporate donors -- the very companies GLAAD was monitoring for anti-gay content. There had also been some dissension that the media awards, which have evolved into glitzy affairs that bring out major names in the entertainment and media worlds, was appropriate for an advocacy organization.

But many point to the continuing work that GLAAD does to keep media honest about gay issues. Such rankings as how gay friendly TV networks are have become closely watched in the entertainment industry and are widely reported in the mainstream media. The company makes news by protesting what it sees as negative images, such as the short-lived recent sitcom "Work It."

The group probably receives most attention for calling out homophobic celebrities, such as Tracy Morgan, who worked with the group after making an anti-gay remark. The group’s work with pro hockey player Wayne Simmonds also demonstrates GLAAD’s increasing outreach to the sports world.

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