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Media Helping LGBTQ Community Gain Greater Acceptance Among Americans

As Pride Month celebrations continue, a recent survey from advocacy group GLAAD reports a greater acceptance of the LGBTQ community among the public as more gay and lesbian characters are portrayed on television.

GLAAD’s LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media survey reported that 48% of respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in the media said they are more accepting of gay and lesbian people, compared to 35% of respondents who had not recently seen LGBTQ people in the media.

GLAAD chief communications officer Rich Ferraro discussed the results of GLAAD’s survey as well as the organization’s advocacy plans beyond Pride Month in a wide-ranging interview, an edited version of which appears below.

Before we begin, what is your reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ workplace protections?

The Supreme Court’s historic ruling protecting LGBTQ people from being fired for being LGBTQ is a moment to celebrate, but it is long overdue. It’s shocking that still in 2020 our dignity is being debated and decided upon by the highest Court in the land. The ruling is a reminder for how far LGBTQ have to go for full equality, particularly at a time when the number of murders of Black transgender women are rising and when conversion therapy – the dangerous and debunked practice of trying to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ youth – is still allowed in many states. So while we can celebrate that a conservative leaning Supreme Court granted us a basic right, we are reminded of how far LGBTQ have yet to go.

What is the correlation between the increase in the public’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community as sited in GLAAD’s report and the rising number of gay and lesbian characters on television?

Over the past few years, we've definitely seen an uptick of characters across broadcast streaming and cable who are LGBTQ. I think that's a reflection of the world that we're living in where there are more LGBTQ people visible and being out. What our latest report showed is that non-LGBTQ people are comfortable with this. I think that's a big permission slip for the industry to do more and do better, and by do better I mean it's not just enough to have an LGBTQ character in a secondary role these days. What we should be looking at is how we can focus more on diverse LGBTQ people and stories.

Are you satisfied with the progress the media has made in the positive reflection of LGBTQ characters?

It's still a mixed bag when it comes to the quality and diversity of LGBTQ people. There are shows like Pose (pictured) which has really raised the bar for representation of LGBTQ people on TV. The show centers on trans issues, HIV and other issues that for too long were missing from television and from the industry. I think there are some networks and streaming services like Netflix that are recognizing this and are creating content to meet that need. We're having discussions with casting directors to make sure that there are queer voices at the table to represent the community in the best way. We're not saying every character on TV has to be an LGBTQ hero, although it would be great to see more LGBTQ superheroes. What we're asking for is accurate and diverse depictions. They don't always have to be positive because LGBTQ people do have struggles, and I think that those struggles and those issues are often glossed over by the industry.

In the GLAAD study, 85% of respondents believe companies that feature LGBTQ characters in their advertisements reflect a commitment to offering products to all types of customers. Does that show that inclusion is good for a company’s bottom line?

Inclusion is good for business and good for your brand. Research has shown that when people see us in the media, they're more likely to accept LGBTQ people and issues and those brands that associate with it. I think that's a big shift from just a few years ago when media companies and brands were concerned about including LGBTQ people, because they thought the general public would respond negatively. But now we're hearing that the general public is ready to see more LGBTQ stories, so the next step is to make sure that those stories are presented in ways that fairly and accurately reflect our diversity.

What next’s up for GLAAD in terms of what the organization is doing within the marketplace?

This year we entered a Pride Month in which over 205 marches and festivals were canceled or postponed, and where our safe spaces -- bars, LGBTQ community centers and nightclubs -- were closed, leaving some LGBTQ people -- especially youth -- to isolate in homes that are not affirming. So people are turning to the media, and we wanted to make sure that the industry heard that LGBTQ visibility is good for business and it's good for the world. We are also centering our messaging on content featuring LGBTQ people of color, specifically black LGBTQ people.There are so many intersectional issues right now that often go unnoticed as LGBTQ issues … LGBTQ people of color are victims of police brutality and are living in a racist society, and more and more of the LGBTQ movement and our organizations are standing with those individuals and with those communities. It's so important for our community to hear from black LGBTQ voices during this time and going forward.