Words and images matter…for people with disabilities and all minorities. I was able to have a wonderfully insightful interview with Seth Adam, Director of Communications for GLAAD, the leading media advocacy and minority rights organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Throughout the interview Seth shared how personal convictions, passion, advocacy and awareness leads to change. One of the main reasons I wanted to share a conversation with Seth was the organization’s annual report on media and inclusion which incorporates people with disabilities. Each year, GLAAD spearheads the Where We Are on TV report which analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars and looks at the number of characters encompassing LGBT, race and ethnicity, and people with disability on broadcast, cable networks and streaming networks.
The mission statement of the organization speaks to commitment and conviction: GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBT equality. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.
Here’s a video that shares an overview of GLAAD and what the organization achieves.
After I heard more from Seth about GLAAD’s overall mission and purpose I realize that a similar organization focusing on inclusion of people with disability within the media could be a powerful ally for this group. Consider the graphic from GLAAD’s website and if it was people with disabilities.
As GLAAD’s Director of Communications, Seth drives the organization’s media strategy and bridges impactful partnerships with some of the world’s most well-known brands. His writing and commentary have appeared in news sources including The Associated Press, The New York Times, USA Today, TIME, and many more.
Here now is the full interview with Seth Adam.
Can you share a bit about your background and why you’re passionate about GLAAD’s efforts and your role at the organization?
GLAAD works to shape the narrative about the LGBT community in the media, bringing stories of triumph and trial to people across the world in order to build support for equality. This has a real impact on policy decisions and public opinion; for some, the only LGBT people they know are those they meet on TV, at the movies, or when reading the newspaper. What renews my passion is knowing that, because of GLAAD’s work and the media’s ability to impact people all over the world in new ways, a storyline or campaign of ours can give LGBT youth hope and confidence that they can succeed simply by being themselves.
Within what I’ve seen relating to advertising and disability we’re at the initial stages of greater inclusion of people with disabilities. Can you share some background on GLAAD’s beginnings more than 25 years ago and the initial milestones your organization was able to accomplish?
GLAAD was founded in response to the grossly defamatory coverage of the gay community during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Today, GLAAD’s first milestones seem like such standard, everyday parts of news and entertainment, but in the 1980s, GLAAD had to start from square-one with media outlets to increase and improve representation of LGBT people. As an organization and as a culture, we’ve made so many advances in terms of how the LGBT community is portrayed, but it had to start with something as seemingly simple, yet desperately important, as recognizing that we exist. Unfortunately, that work still isn’t done, as we advocate every day for transgender and bisexual members of our community to have their identities recognized, and for LGBT people to be portrayed with respect.
What was the climate like at the time and how were gay, lesbian and other minorities represented in media?
In one word: dehumanizing. Such defamatory media coverage made it even harder to get the general public and lawmakers to take the LGBT community’s needs seriously—to get the necessary funding for research and healthcare. It was clear then, just as it is now, that legal equality and cultural equality are integrally tied.
What is the climate like today and how are gay, lesbian and other minorities represented in media?
The climate is often inconsistent, which shows that media advocacy is just as relevant and necessary as ever. For instance, “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent” have outstanding and complex representations of transgender women. At the same time, the news media often refuses to recognize trans people’s identities or the hurdles they encounter in everyday life. The same can be said for how bisexual, lesbian, and gay people are represented. The multidimensional representations that do exist serve tremendously in educating people about the LGBT community and building support for equality. Overall, of course, LGBT representation has increased exponentially, certainly in quantity and largely in quality as well.
How do you see GLAAD’s role today and what are some major goals of the organization for the future?
GLAAD continues shaping the narrative so that positive changes are made for people who are LGBT, and we also work to protect the advances that have been made towards equality. What we’re seeing throughout the country is a gap between policies in various places that support equality, and cultural acceptance of LGBT people. GLAAD is dedicated to closing that gap so that everyone can experience full social acceptance and legal equality, no matter what state they live in.
Can you share some insight into GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV report and the significance of it?
GLAAD’s annual Where We Are on TV report analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks and looks at the number of LGBT characters on cable networks for the upcoming TV season. GLAAD is always in communication with leaders in the media to make sure the LGBT community is represented thoughtfully and diversely. GLAAD’s annual TV reports, WWAT and the Network Responsibility Index, set an important benchmark for quality representation of the LGBT community. They’re also valuable tools for demonstrating how much work is left to be done, as less than 4% of series regulars on primetime scripted series are LGBT.
Among the minorities highlighted within the report, data is shared on people with disabilities and their inclusion within TV shows and media. What trends have you seen within this minority group and what are your thoughts about it’s future inclusion within media?
When it comes to primetime broadcast scripted series, characters with disabilities have been hovering around 1% of all regular characters. This season looked more promising than others with every broadcast network featuring at least one regular character with a disability. FOX was leading the way at the beginning of the season, but the cancellation of “Red Band Society” means those numbers will once again fall. Networks and producers must pay close attention to diversity when creating new series, and that includes people with disabilities. It will allow them to create new and interesting storylines that more accurately reflect the world around us.
Since the blog’s focus is on advertising could you share GLAAD’s efforts in that media segment?
GLAAD constantly works with corporations and agencies to ensure that LGBT people are also represented in advertising. This past year alone has seen a significant increase in LGBT-inclusive ads, especially those targeting mainstream audiences. What’s clear is that equality is now important to a company’s bottom line, and it’s important that’s reflected in its marketing to consumers.
What would you suggest from a media advocacy standpoint for people with disability to rally media influencers and decision makers around the the opportunity to increase visibility and voice for people with disabilities?
When it comes to using entertainment media to increase the visibility of the LGBT community, the findings of GLAAD’s reports analyzing the quantity and quality of diverse representations were key. Presenting network executives with hard data on the images of the LGBT community on their airwaves was a critical way to give them concrete figures on why they needed to do better. Tracking the quantity and quality of people with disabilities in the media would be a great way to start having impactful conversations with networks, and then making that data public will help keep them accountable and move the needle.