AT&T/GLAAD Controversy: Final Straw? Or Opportunity for Reform?
In case you missed it, a major shakeup went down at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in recent weeks, complete with mass resignations and damage control some are calling ham-handed at best.
It all started when GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios wrote a letter of support to the Federal Communications Commission in May backing AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile. Bloggers questioned what a gay rights group had to do with cell providers, let alone why it would take a stance on such a controversial merger.
Barrios only compounded this public relations disaster when he backtracked on another letter sent to the FCC last year echoing AT&T’s stance on net neutrality. When he tried to flub off the letter by blaming his assistant, speculation that AT&T had GLAAD’s leadership in its pocket came to a head -- and Barrios’ days heading the organization were clearly numbered.
On June 22, GLAAD announced that Barrios and eight members of its Board of Directors had "resigned." Later that list included board member Troup Coronado, the former AT&T lobbyist whose work with anti-gay groups like the Heritage Foundation has surfaced recently and gotten him into hot water. Several fingers have pointed to Coronado’s ties with AT&T for the disastrous FCC letters.
Crystallizing Longstanding Criticism
The crisis crystallized long-time criticism of the organization.
Critics have long-charged GLAAD with failing to represent trans communities and communities of color, doing its job selectively, having too-close relationships with the media organizations it’s supposed to be monitoring, and abrogating its watchdog focus in favor of celebrity-filled (and celebrity-praising) award shows. Some are now questioning whether the AT&T controversy signals GLAAD’s obsolescence as an organization all together.
"GLAAD specifically may not be necessary, but a national institution dedicated to fighting for queer rights that has a strong and clear agenda around media representation in both content and policy is absolutely critical," said Malkia Cyril, blogger and executive director of the Center for Media Justice.