Bil Browning

GLAAD responds to Cleveland Show criticism

Filed By Bil Browning | December 01, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: animation, FOX, GLAAD, homophobic behavior, The Cleveland Show, The Family Guy, transphobia

Sunday I posted about a blatantly transphobic and homophobic episode of Family Guy spinoff, The Cleveland Show. I criticized GLAAD for immediately denouncing an episode of South Park that used the word "faggot" repeatedly to illustrate how stupid the word is, but not uttering a peep about the Cleveland Show.

Auntie-Mama-Cleveland-Show.pngWhile I e-mailed GLAAD about the episode and didn't get a response, it was a short work week because of the Thanskgiving holiday. That said, the episode aired on Sunday evening and GLAAD had the time to point out the hypocrisy of Good Morning America's Adam Lambert mini-scandal after his AMA performance on Monday night.

Projectors questioned GLAAD's commitment to trans issues in the comments section and pointed out other occasions that the org had dropped the ball on transphobia. Yesterday evening, GLAAD responded - both directly via e-mail and on their own blog.

Here's what they have to say:

Rich Ferraro, GLAAD's Director of Public Relations, e-mailed this statement to me:

Our Director of Entertainment Media, Taj Paxton, had a meeting with producers of The Cleveland Show and Family Guy scheduled and also contacted them after this specific episode aired. The meeting is set for next week. It is part of an ongoing discussion that GLAAD is having with Fox regarding consistent homophobic and transphobic jokes in its animated programming. The problematic transgender episode is one of several instances that Taj and her team will be discussing with them - as well as advocating for more fair LGBT inclusion on the show.

Taj's post to the GLAAD blog also outlines a laundry list of recent trans issues that the org has worked on.

My partner, Jerame, sent me an e-mail about the post and GLAAD's response last night and he makes several good points:

I don't think anyone is saying GLAAD isn't working on trans issues. Rather, I think what I've read and how I feel about this is that GLAAD has so far been silent on such blatant and over the top transphobia on the Cleveland Show in light of the hullabaloo they made over the relatively tame South Park episode about the word "Faggot".

...Cleveland is on a broadcast network with far more viewers than Comedy Central and South Park. In terms of access to homophobic or transphobic material, The Cleveland Show is far more accessible to average Americans than South Park because it is aired on FOX and not Comedy Central.

...South Park's largest audience ever was 3.7 million viewers for an episode bemoaning how bad the last Indiana Jones movie was. The Cleveland Show debuted with 9.4 million viewers, which was more than The Simpsons for that night and only slightly less than Family Guy on the same night. I couldn't find numbers for that particular episode, but being wedged between The Simpsons and Family Guy gives the show a good shot at landing between 8 and 10 million viewers each week.

It actually makes me a bit more disappointed to find out that GLAAD has been having an ongoing discussion with FOX about its animated programming. Why? Because if this is something that's been on GLAAD's radar for some time - and all they've done is schedule another conversation - this episode of Cleveland proves GLAAD isn't being taken seriously by FOX and maybe it's time to change to change tactics.

Which leads me to a question for Projectors... Many of you are unhappy with GLAAD's handling of trans issues in the media. They've listed ways they've been working for accurate and fair media representations of trans folk, but several folks listed problematic television shows that the org missed.

At the same time, I e-mailed a link to my story about the Cleveland Show to several prominent LGBT bloggers and only AfterElton picked up the story, so it's not just GLAAD that's missing opportunities to educate about trans issues. Our own community is giving the story short shrift. In fact, I got several e-mails - mostly from gay men - who didn't see anything transphobic about the episode and wrote to ask what was wrong with it.

So, what's the solution? How can the org do better? GLAAD is obviously listening to our criticism, so why not make it constructive? If it's time for GLAAD to change tactics when dealing with FOX's animated line-up, what new tactic should they pursue?

And how do we get our own media outlets to pick up trans stories with the same outrage they gave to Adam Lambert's AMA performance and the subsequent Good Morning America brouhaha?

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Re Jerame's reponse:

I don't think anyone is saying GLAAD isn't working on trans issues. Rather, I think what I've read and how I feel about this is that GLAAD has so far been silent on such blatant and over the top transphobia on the Cleveland Show in light of the hullabaloo they made over the relatively tame South Park episode about the word "Faggot".

There's two facets here: (1) Pushing out an aggressive response to educate the public on why that kind of content is unacceptable and (2) preventing it from happening again in the future. From evidence so far, it seems GLAAD's approach is wholly focused on #2 and not enough on #1.

I think a more vocal approach- through a press conference or press statement, or organized pushback- is warranted. It is important to have private conversations, but you can put out a press statement condemning the episode and get it circulated if a program like CNN covers the story- and also have a private sit-down.

Angela Brightfeather | December 1, 2009 2:20 PM

I do not claim to be any kind of a media whiz about these things, nor do I understand the details of advertising or being able to push back on this type of thing.....but the objective I would think is to make lemonade our of the lemons that this latest show created.

To do that, and with the collaboration of GLADD or another trustworty and knowleagable sourch, the show might consider a series of sequals within the Cleveland Show that deal with the actual and total acceptance of the family of the Transgender character and build that inot an object lesson for everyone about acceptance of the individual for who and what they are.

They have already accomplished the cutdown of the character and maligning her, now they should try to continue to show her actual worth within the family traditionally and their love for the person despite how she wishes to express hereself and build her into the show as an asset to the story line on a number of shows, concentrating on her contributions to the family and the things that make them better.

I can think of any number of scenarios that would result in humor and make people think about the Trans person, Aunty Mama as a caring and valuable person. I lived through some of them with my own daughter, like helping her with makeup and going with her to by her first prom dress. Or being with my son when he had to be hospitalized for a short time. With Christmas just around the corner, there is a great opportunity to include the Trans person in the families holiday and plans in some kind of humorous way that elevates the realtionship instead of making it look like a farce or a deception. How about Auntie bringing her boyfriend to the family dinner?

We all live our lives as Transgender people hoping for the best and often getting the worst from our families. Humor, the basis of this type of entertainment, usually is just a magnification of the details that we live every day. I would think that the writers, with some help from a caring Trans person, might be able to make those life lessons humorous and at the same time meaningfull by showing the path to acceptance, instead of dragging the realtionship into the gutter as they depicted.

I would call for a few sequals along a more guided path. You can't destroy what has already been done, but you can build on it by making it more acceptable. Then everyone learns something.

I must say, I actually think the character itself was portrayed in a pretty positive way. She helped Donna growing up in a lot of ways (Donna gushes positively about her influence throughout the episode) and is shown to be a force that really binds the family together, regardless of her gender presentation. So that's good first step.

The problem is with the characters' reactions to finding out. I don't care much about how Cleveland's dad reacted - he's portrayed as a pig all episode, so any distaste he has can be chalked up to the boorish nature of the character. More troubling is how Cleveland vomits when he finds out his father had sex with "another man." Since Cleveland is the main character, the one you're rooting for, that's problematic.

That was a long, roundabout way of saying that I think you're absolutely right that they need to revisit the character and use her as an educational moment, and I think that they laid a good foundation for that in this episode if they choose to go back to it. I'm hoping someone tells Seth MacFarlane about the problems with this episode because even if Fox won't care, as a self-proclaimed progressive, hopefully he will and he'll take the steps necessary to heal the damage.

There were a couple of things that bothered me about GLAAD's response.

First was that they kept referring to Bil, the author, as Bilerico, as if that were his proper name, indicating that they really have little or no clue about the Bilerico Project, the people who contribute to it including the publisher, nor as far as I can tell about anything else that goes on here other than when the conversation turns specifically to GLAAD. And these are supposed to be the media experts?

Second, yes it seems like they are doing some trans-relevant work, but it's mostly low-key. It's my belief that, like HRC, if GLAAD wants acceptance from the more grassroots pro-inclusion elements of this community they're going to have to start wearing those values on their sleeves a little more than they have been.

And just so! This is why I can't stand the GLaad-HRC-nGLtf complex.

Angela Brightfeather | December 1, 2009 3:30 PM


AS far as I am concerned, I do not see anything that GLADD can do about a FOX based program. I also note that if they really try to be ambivilent about it or force the action, the next thing your going to hear and see is Hannity and O'Rielly making a big deal about it on their show and spinning it to read that GLADD is powerless in this situation and they might be able to get CNN or NBC to turn around on it, but they will never get FOX to roll over on what they call "humor". In fact, suspecting that as I do, it becomes even more clear why GLADD is only "talking" about it. FOX revels in the role of the little boy, innocently asking why the king has no clothes on.

In any event, trying to get FOX to stop drinking the anti-liberal, anti-GLBT cool aid is like trying to cure a lepper after their leg falls of.
You may be able to impede it, but your never going to repair the damage already done.

Angela makes a lot more sense than GLAAD.

Thank you.

Next time Glaad calls for money tell them what I tell 'em "oh sorry I gave it to an LGBT youth organization I didn't realize that something so old school was still out there or well half out"

Angela I agree pretty much with everything you've said. The only thing I could add to it is that if you think a program goes to far call the FCC and complain about it. Let Hannity,O'reilly and Beck whine about Fox being caught, not about us complaining to them about it. As an added bonus do like Angela say's let them develop the character the way they shoulld of in the beggining.

Interesting how GLAAD promotes an interview with Candis Cayne at the same time she did two episodes of Nip/Tuck with a highly exploitive and even offensive theme... detransition and retransition of a transwoman. These episodes portrayed a transwoman as an unstable nut who mostly transitioned for reasons of getting sex. (which how how they also portrayed a previous mtf character on that show... a sex obsessed nutjob). Where was GLAAD's commentary on that content, especially after their blog (and I'm sure they had some kind of an outline of the show's story) actually recommended it to viewers? GLAAD had virtually nothing to do with the campaign against Seventeen Magazine's lurid story of a young FTM but has taken much of the credit. Moreover, they've never taken The L Word to task for their inane and often inaccurate storylines concerning their FTM character Max (who, btw, is pregnant on the show!). Let's be honest, GLAAD has no trans people on their board and, to my knowledge, no trans-identified people on their staff. Sorry, but if this is the organization which claims to be the main media advocate of trans people, they're either sorely inadequate to the task or just plain disinterested.

There's little chance Fox will ever see the light on this. They're trying to reach a specific audience - young, white, straight, nominally progressive - and that audience isn't about to start caring about the word "tranny."

The best that can come of this is making a stink. It could educate people about what's wrong with this show even if it doesn'tchange Fox.

Angela Brightfeather | December 2, 2009 8:55 AM


You make and excellent point that generally speaking can be applied to just about every oversight group in the GLBT community that claims to speak for GLBT people in all matters that the media touches.

GLADD does not have a Trans spokesperson or they would have hit the nail directly on the head when it comes to this program. Heck, if I can think of a better approach to this, then I know that a media trained Trans person would have reached the same conclusion way before any of these posts and discussion and it would have been noted in the objectives in the GLADD statement, instead of the less than inspiring idea of just talking to FOX. Any good plan has a gaol and I didn't find one in GLADD's statement. Waving your arms and thrashing about does nothing but make them look silly and saying that they will sit and talk means even less to the more progressives in our community.

The fact that HRC made a big hallabaloo about the one MtoF Trans person that they hired last year was indication enough that even the largest GLBT supportive groups in our community don't really care that much about hiring Trans voices to represent them, even regarding singular Trans issues, and if they do they make damn sure that they are passable and don't think those radical Tranny thoughts, like being considered equal.

I wish I could say that I have experienced the friendship of a number of MtoF's who work at responsible postions in GLBT media outlets like GLADD or some of the print news, but they simply don't exist in an open and representative way. I guess we just haven't crossed that bridge of acceptability yet.

Robyn Carolyn Montague | December 2, 2009 1:00 PM

I find it marginalizing to the Trans to be continually subjected to what is called humor or entertainment. In almost two subsequent issues of a St Louis 'entertainment' online/print periodical, in two stories, the local Transgender Community (and thus by inference, the Trans Community as a whole) is subjected to ridicule and marginalization. In one, a Transwoman is reduced to being subhuman with a lurid story of her legal problems. In the other, the Trans Community is described in an interview of a drag queen, as being 'pyschologically diseased.' "It is!" is a published exclamation that he said.

I wrote a strongly worded comment/response to this publication in the first case, which has been subsquently been acknowledged in a post by them to all that had commented negatively.

In the second case, I have written a personal message to the drag queen (and in an positive and constructive manner) requesting an explanation for his comments to this publication. While I am thinking an apology would be most beneficial to the (entire) Community, my foremost measure of character, would be if I receive an answer at all.

Robyn Carolyn Montague
TransHaven Missouri, Inc.

Have you seen the animate representation of the formula Simpson-family guy - the Cleveland Show at