For years the GLAAD Media Awards have evolved from a small, intimate affair, to a global success which draws the biggest names in media and Hollywood as presenters, honorees, and patrons. This year was no exception as the iconic Madonna was named honoree and recipient of the 2019 GLAAD Advocate of Change award.
As with any other high-profile event that boasts celebrities and a red carpet, star gazing becomes the focus, as the paparazzi wrestles for photos and interviews from the A-Listers in attendance. At the GLAAD awards this year, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Andy Cohen, Rosie O’Donnell, Sara Jessica Parker and the cast of FX’s Pose are just a few of the names who attended.
The GLAAD awards buzz however, was cut somewhat short in the media as it was understandably overshadowed just a couple of days later by the Met Gala, where the larger than life Billy Porter –dressed brilliantly as Cleopatra was carried in by muscular “slaves,” and and Katy Perry arrived dressed as a chandelier, changing later into a hamburger dress with lettuce and tomato accessories.
For both the GLAAD awards and the Met Gala, it’s easy to get caught up in the celebrity factor of both. The Met Gala is an important event to raise money for the preservation of the museum of course, but it is imperative to be aware of the historic role GLAAD has played as advocates, specifically for the LGBTQ community, with its decades-long history of work for equality.
KNOW THE HISTORY:
GLAAD ( Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), began in 1985 during the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. As the nation and world in general, began to panic about the new “gay cancer” that was indiscriminately taking the lives of gay men. Some media coverage of the crisis often depicted homosexuality as sinister. The biggest offender was the NY Post, which printed columns that continually presented the term “homosexual” accompanied by negative connotations, further stoking fears of casual, non-sexual contact with gay men.
A small group of a journalists directly complained to the Post and rallied in protest, demanding that the newspaper change its tone when addressing the AIDS epidemic. Most notably, they asked for them to stop villainizing gay men as a monolithic health danger to society.
The protest ultimately reached a fever pitch with nearly 1000 people picketing outside the NYPost every day, and this finally brought about a meeting between the editorial directors of the newspaper and the activists.
One of the biggest triumphs to come from the meeting was an agreement that the Post would use the term “gay” rather than “homosexual” and abandon many other more harsh terms they had been using to describe gay men. This was a major shift in media, and through continued GLAAD advocacy, by 1987 they were able to get the New York Times, Associated Press and other world news outlets to follow this new editorial guideline.
THE CONTINUED LEGACY:
From that pivotal moment in queer history, the GLAAD Media Awards began in 1989, celebrating and honoring fearless advocates who bring positive LGBTQ representations to media and help to protect civil liberties for all people. Given such a context, and taking into account Madonna’s commitment to the gay community through her art and advocacy, she was the perfect recipient for the top honor award of 2019 Advocate for Change.
One of GLAAD’s more recent and high-profile initiatives is Spirit Day, an anti-bullying, “day of action” campaign, in support of LGBTQ youth. Countless major names in media including The Obamas, Ellen Degeneres, and Oprah Winfrey are supporters of Spirit Day. The hashtag #SpiritDay receives over 1.5 billion annual impressions as one of the most visible anti-bullying campaigns in the world.
With all that said, yes, the celebrity events GLAAD hosts throughout the year are a blast and they help to bring about greater awareness to LGBTQ issues. However, it’s important for the public to know the history of GLAAD’s hard work so that we can better, and more fully appreciate the joy and liberation we celebrate today.
Learn more about GLAAD and how you can get involved.