It’s long past time for GLAAD to close its doors. And it’s not too late for Equality California to come back home.
Nonprofit organizations such as GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and EQCA were created for good reasons. GLAAD, founded in 1985, was created to combat bias against LGBT people in the media and to educate journalists about cultures and communities that many of them didn’t understand. EQCA was founded in 1998 to fight for civil rights for LGBT people in California.
But over the past couple of decades, GLAAD has devolved into an organization known best for its celebrity award events, which it uses to suck up money that should go to more important LGBT causes. EQCA continues to do good work in California, a beacon for LGBT rights in the United States. But EQCA has decided to extend its reach nationally with an office in Washington, D.C., already the headquarters for the Human Rights Campaign, perhaps the most effective group advocating for LGBT rights. Other organizations with a national focus such as Lambda Legal also already have offices there. If EQCA is successful in promoting itself as a national LGBT rights organization, it will suck up dollars that might have gone to HRC and Lambda and others with a well-established national focus.
The failure of nonprofits to recognize their success and close their doors isn’t uncommon. Laurie Wolf, president of the Foraker Group, a consultant to nonprofits, which has studied the sustainability of nonprofits, notes that “it’s harder to get a nonprofit to go out of business than to get a man on Mars. I believe we will walk on Mars but have less faith that nonprofit organizations (that are no longer viable) will go out of business like their for-profit counterparts.”
Foraker’s study focuses on nonprofits that find themselves in financial trouble, but Wolf acknowledges that it’s the passion of a nonprofit’s founder that often keeps it going, no matter what. A New York Times story in 2011 notes a movement among some nonprofits to close once they have accomplished their mission, albeit a modest one.
“So far, the number of organizations opting to go out of business for mission-related reasons is too small to call a trend,” says the story. “It is still far more common for a nonprofit to close its doors because of financial pressure … ”
I was a passionate supporter of GLAAD when I moved to New York City in 1989 to work for The New York Times. I volunteered with the organization (I was part of the group that built GLAAD’s rickety first NYC Pride Parade float). I donated to it. GLAAD worked long and hard to combat bias and ignorance about LGBT people in the media. Its work along with a simultaneous evolution in the national culture made a difference.
Consider that today Anderson Cooper, the openly gay CNN anchor, is one of the country’s major television news anchors. Frank Bruni, the columnist for The New York Times, sometimes notes in passing his husband and minor aspects of life as a gay man in his trenchant observations of national political issues. Of course there is the brilliant and provocative Rachel Maddow. And what major metropolitan daily doesn’t cover its city’s annual Gay Pride parade? On the entertainment side there is Ellen DeGeneres, the popular “Modern Family,” “Grace and Frankie” and “Transparent,” and some of us are welcoming the return of “Will and Grace.”
These days I don’t know of a newspaper in America that doesn’t include same-sex weddings in its marriage announcements, and the word “gay” has replaced the somewhat creepy “homosexual” in news stories. While GLAAD continues to take credit for the latter, in fact it was a decision by New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Assistant Managing Editor Al Siegel, the standards editor, that legitimized the word “gay” by adding it to the newspaper’s style manual. It also was The Times’ decision to publish same-sex marriage announcements that led to newspapers across the country doing the same thing. As those of us with a history in the newspaper business know, Arthur Sulzberger’s evolution into a strong supporter of LGBT rights was heavily influenced by his discovery that a friend and fellow journalist at The Times was HIV positive and gay and feared revealing that in what then was a somewhat homophobic culture.
Thankfully, these days you never really find bias against LGBT people in the news or entertainment media. That has left GLAAD, in its search for relevance, churning out pointless data about the low percentage of gay men, lesbians and transgender people in movies and on television (although those percentages are much larger than our actual percentage in the overall population). Recently GLAAD launched a crazy attack on a Stanford University study that found artificial intelligence can somewhat determine whether people are gay or straight, based on their faces. GLAAD, in a statement with the HRC, called the study “dangerous and flawed … junk science,” a claim convincingly disputed by the Stanford researchers.
When GLAAD isn’t digging deep into the Hollywood weeds for data to prove its relevance, it is throwing expensive, lavish and celebrity-studded parties in Los Angeles and New York to present awards to movies, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, web series, documentaries, musicians, comic books, talk shows, websites and blogs — what media form doesn’t offer LGBT content and personalities these days? In doing that it rakes in about $5 million a year — money that would go a long way to funding HRC’s efforts in Washington, D.C. GLAAD even takes some money from LGBT donors in Atlanta with an event there. In Georgia, a state dominated by conservative Republicans, that money would be better spent on local LGBT issues than celebrating Hollywood stars.
While California is probably the most gay-friendly state in the nation, we still need EQCA to continue its advocacy for LGBT people. Its 2015 tax return, the most recent publicly available, shows revenue of $1.35 million, a decline from the year before, and a loss of $125,000. While its not clear how EQCA did financially in 2016 and how it is doing thus far in 2017, clearly trying to claim a stake in the national fight for LGBT rights is a way to create a broader donor base. But EQCA means “Equality California,” and it should stay focused on that mission and not on expanding into a world where LGBT people already are advocated for by well-run and -established institutions.