This week, we saw something unprecedented happen in the media. The New York Post apologized (sort of, which for them is saying a lot) for a nasty editorial cartoon by Sean Delonas, a longtime fixture on the editorial page of the New York tabloid. The cartoon was racist in this case, not one of his regularly appearing homophobic and sickening cartoons.
It was a grotesque piece of editorial, depicting President Barack Obama as the raging chimpanzee shot dead by police in Connecticut with the officers saying "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Delonas has a long-standing reputation for offending and is, as my Dad used to say, "must not be prejudice, because he seems to hate everybody."
So what does this have to do with GLAAD?
It was not news, really, since Delonas has a long history of offending many people with his "work." The news was the apology by the Post.
I was thrilled to see the swift, strong and unified response from those offended by the racist cartoon. But it put into context and frankly saddened me to realize how effective this was when I continue to see the same fruitless strategy implemented after every homophobic cartoon Delonas puts on paper.
And it happens often.
And the blame for this sits squarely in the lap of our community's media advocacy group, GLAAD.
Some history is helpful here. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has e-mails flying and phones ringing every time Delonas depicts our community as sick, perverted or just plain gross. Which he does often. I should know, I worked there for over a decade.
It's also important to note, by the way, that GLAAD was founded because of homophobic and AIDS-phobic coverage in the NY Post in 1985. Hundreds of activists gathered and threw rags at the front door, getting attention and facilitating the birth of a much needed advocacy organization concerned with media representations of our community. One would think that repeated defamation and the sheer symbolism of the NY Post would prompt larger action. For all we love to hate it - and would love to write it off as a rag - the NY Post is an influential paper in both the news and entertainment industry and millions read it.
Now let's be clear what we are talking about here. Cartoons depicting a man carrying a sheep wearing a bridal veil to a "New Jersey Marriage Licenses" window. Nasty, personal, and homophobic cartoons about Rosie O'Donnell, Jim McGreevy, and LGBT pride organizers.
So what does GLAAD do virtually every time another Delonas cartoon runs? Here's a headline from July 17, 2007: "NY Post publishes yet another gratuitous vulgar anti-gay cartoon." Here's one from October, 2006: "New York Post Publishes Second Anti-Gay Cartoon in Three Weeks."
Great headlines for alerts. But it clearly will take more than headlines and emails to general addresses at the NY Post to deal with this issue. I believe we should be smart enough to understand that the NY Post is not interested in being held accountable for giving Delonas a platform to spew sexist, racist and homophobic "art" (as he calls it). While he has a First Amendment right to his opinions and an ability to draw whatever he wants, the NY Post gives him the platform and that is their business and editorial decision.
My suggestion? Let's do what has worked well in the past when faced with repeated, entrenched and unrepentant homophobia in the media. Simply put, if a media outlet's hearts and minds (to use the phrase all over GLAAD's web site) are not moved by our action, maybe having them feel it in their wallet will get them to do the right thing.
Remember Dr. Laura? If we could get one major advertiser to sit down and look at a broad, diverse sampling of Delonas' cartoons, I am betting they will think twice about being associated with the paper.
I think letter and calls to Macy's, a major advertiser that has a long track record of LGBT support and fairness, would not go into a black hole like the ones that go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hell, these are the folks who had Harvey Firestein dressed as Mrs. Claus with Santa in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. They have had a registry for same-sex couples for a long time and advertise in LGBT community publications.
I say it's worth a shot. How about it GLAAD?
Too many people in the community tell me they feel like GLAAD has lost its bite and only see the celebrity-filled events and entertainment-focused work. GLAAD was founded by pioneer Vito Russo and others to take on exactly the kind of defamation Delonas is peddling - in the very publication that prompted the organization's birth! Let's get back to our roots and take them on.
I sometimes wonder myself if GLAAD - an organization I devoted so much of my career to and who mission I care about deeply and carry on in my current work - has started to lose its way. Maybe Sean Delonas can be the unlikely person who helps GLAAD get back on track.