Strategic Advocacy at the GLAAD Media Awards: An Interview with Rich Ferraro

By Lauren Herold

From 2013-2015, I worked at GLAAD, a non-profit organization that strives to create cultural change by shaping entertainment and news media representations of LGBTQ people. GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a name it dropped in 2013) was founded in 1985 by a group of activists interested in protesting homophobic news coverage of the AIDS crisis. GLAAD operated as a network of city-based chapters in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the chapters merged in 1994 to form a national organization with headquarters in both New York City and Los Angeles. GLAAD’s structure and mission have shifted and expanded over the past 36 years: while originally a “watchdog” organization that organized boycotts of anti-LGBTQ media networks and newspapers, staff today typically work alongside journalists, writers, actors, producers, and executives who are willing and able to create progressive LGBTQ media images.   

GLAAD is best known for its annual media awards, two star-studded events that celebrate film, television, and news media depicting groundbreaking LGBTQ stories issues. The GLAAD Media Awards—celebrated during one event in New York and a corresponding event in LA—are widely covered in both the mainstream and LGBTQ press and televised for national and global audiences. When I joined GLAAD in 2013, I was surprised to learn that, behind the scenes, the GLAAD Awards are less an Oscars-like awards show and more a fundraiser that keeps the organization afloat from year to year. A thrilling and exhausting event that takes the work of every staff member to execute (as well as a team of consultants and volunteers), staff plans for the GLAAD Awards year-round, on top of the day-to-day advocacy work that GLAAD already does. 

While I was thrilled to learn new methods to analyze queer media outside of the non-profit model, I was troubled that the academic criticisms of GLAAD rarely resonated with my experiences working there.

Lauren Herold

My work at GLAAD inspired me to apply to a doctoral program to study LGBTQ media. When I arrived in graduate school, I found myself encountering critiques of the organization in media studies scholarship: that GLAAD participates in “mainstreaming” the LGBTQ movement, promoting queer representations that “[find] ground with the dominant culture [1]” rather than asserting more radical LGBTQ political projects; that GLAAD operates on a simplistic “representational justice”[2] model of media activism, reproducing the naïve idea that film and television alone can create social change; and that GLAAD endorses a binaristic understanding of LGBTQ media as either good/positive or bad/negative, rather than a more nuanced and complex understanding of televisual representation and its relationship to history, industry, genre, production, distribution, and reception. [3] While I was thrilled to learn new methods to analyze queer media outside of the non-profit model, I was troubled that the academic criticisms of GLAAD rarely resonated with my experiences working there. My time as a staff member was characterized more by thoughtful and lively debates about LGBTQ politics and media held around the lunchroom table rather than the corporate, assimilationist atmosphere described in academic texts. 

In order to complicate assumptions about GLAAD’s work, I interviewed my former colleague Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s Chief Communications Officer about his work on the Media Awards. Inspired by production studies scholarship that explores how “cultural workers serve as mediators of sociopolitical life,”[4] our conversation explores the cultural work of the Media Awards from an insider’s perspective. GLAAD practices what Julia Himberg calls “under the radar activism,” a form of advocacy in which staff help influence the production of LGBTQ media via advising, lobbying, training, and collaborative work.[5] Because most of GLAAD’s advocacy takes place behind the scenes, staff can “actively integrate their own diverse concerns, values, and causes with the needs of the business,” often providing opportunities for “subversive practices” within corporate media.[6] 

In this interview, Ferraro and I explore some of the “subversive practices” accomplished by GLAAD staff in the lead up to the Media Awards. Ferraro, who started working at GLAAD in 2008, is the Executive Producer of the GLAAD Media Awards. Ferraro and his team oversee the nominee and honoree process for the GLAAD Awards, as well as its press, talent relations, and social media coverage. He left GLAAD in 2014 for a job at Viacom but returned to GLAAD in the same role in 2017. I was curious to talk to Ferraro about his perspective on the media awards and the push back it receives from scholars. While the GLAAD Awards are certainly not “under the radar” events, the production and execution of the events require strategic advocacy work on the part of the GLAAD staff. Detailing the day-to-day labor of the GLAAD Awards demonstrates how analysis of a non-profit’s cultural work is made more complex with an investigation into its “under the radar” activism, rather than just its press releases or public image. Indeed, this in-depth conversation demonstrates how media awards that recognize the achievement of marginalized media creators can and do shape industry practices. The interview below is a condensed version of our conversation.

Lauren Herold (LH): Can you share, in your own words, the purpose of the media awards? Both internally for GLAAD and externally for the media industry?

Rich Ferraro (RF): The way that I approach them, and the way that our current CEO Sarah Kate Ellis approaches them, is that the first objective is using them to raise the bar for representation across media genres. We view the nominees and the award recipients as media projects that change hearts and minds and shift perceptions about LGBTQ people and issues. We really hone in on making sure that our nominees reflect the best in media in terms of that objective…across almost 30 categories of different media genres. The second, in terms of the event production and the events themselves, is a fundraiser for GLAAD’s advocacy work throughout the year. The media awards make up a significant percentage of GLAAD’s overall operating budget. We have a strong firewall between the nominee and that selection process and the fundraising components of the events themselves. So when I say I’m one of the executive producers, I really oversee the nominees, the honorees, [and] what gets done on stage. My counterparts in the fundraising department oversee table sales and things like that, and they are not involved in the nominee process.

LH: I think that’s really important to distinguish that there are these two [purposes], a fundraising goal for the organization and then the external goal of raising the bar for representation. I remember from working [at GLAAD] that it’s an extraordinary amount of work to set up the media awards, especially the two events in the spring. And I’m sure it’s even more complicated right now because of COVID-19. I’m wondering if you could talk about what it’s like to prepare for the media awards and how the nomination process works?

RF: I’ll take the nominee process first. So nominee selection is really year round. Our staff—if you’re on the entertainment advocacy team at GLAAD, or if you’re on the news advocacy team or the Spanish language advocacy team—year-round, they’re reviewing media coverage for consideration for the GLAAD awards. We have someone on staff then that compiles all of that information. Also, we do a call for submissions where we get usually several hundred entries for consideration. [Last year], it was around 500. The staff with area expertise review those submissions. We have someone on staff dedicated to reviewing [those submissions] for the four criteria. Do you want me to review those criteria?

LH: That would be great. 

RF: The first one is “fair, accurate and inclusive representation.” Part of being inclusive is being diverse. One thing that we do with our TV reports and with the nominees for the broader awards is really try to push intersectional diversity when it comes to queer representation. Then the second one is if it’s “bold and original.” There’s so many issues within the community that you can focus on and are often overlooked. What we like to do with our nominees is reward—especially when it comes to entertainment and when it comes to journalism as well, obviously, but especially in entertainment—representation of a queer issue that is something new, something revolutionary, something groundbreaking that has not previously been done. Number three is the “cultural impact.” This is where we put a lot of the weight because the GLAAD Awards don’t represent the quote unquote best in LGBTQ representation, it represents media images that are changing hearts and minds amongst non-LGBTQ people. That is where are you reaching the audience that previously has not come in contact with queer issues, queer people, or diverse queer people. The impact is the third criteria, but it’s one that is really weighted heavily by the nominating committee. The fourth is the “overall quality” of the project, which is probably the most subjective I would say.

LH: I’m wondering if the cultural impact is also subjective. How do you measure that?

RF: Part of the form that people fill in for the submissions involves the view count, if it’s a video, or the reach, if it’s entertainment, or the viewership for news. In terms of news and journalism especially, we really try and find outlets that are reaching communities that are not often seeing LGBTQ people in them. That’s a big focus area for the Spanish language categories as well. There are four Spanish language categories. Queer representation in Spanish language media is not quite as prevalent and popular as in English language. So when we nominate specific news outlets in Spanish language media, when we nominate the specific production companies, they use those nominations to prove that there is value in including LGBTQ people. And I’d say that’s the case not only for Spanish language but all the categories, and something to the secret sauce, if you will, of the awards and what we kind of pride ourselves in. We know that these nominees, that networks, film, studios, news outlets—they jockey for this recognition. So we know that if we are able to award worthy projects from those outlets, it gives those reporters or those producers leverage to further include LGBTQ people. 

I can say, as someone who did publicity for a network, there’s a real emphasis in getting recognition for a network or for a studio. And for the GLAAD awards, it’s the one award around queer issues and queer people. When you’re nominated for it, it gives a kind of permission slip to do further work in this space. I think that there are projects like Pose where ratings might not be all that high, but the recognition, especially from places like GLAAD and from all the other awards and accolades and the media attention that Pose has received, has really helped keep that show afloat at FX. I can’t state that with certainty, but I would say that recognition definitely plays into shows with a heavy emphasis on queer issues that might not be performing super well in ratings.

The cast of Pose at the 30th annual GLAAD awards in 2019

LH: I think that’s really interesting. I wonder if there’s any other examples that come to mind, in addition to Pose, of networks or shows that you think have benefited from getting recognized by the media awards. 

RF: One of the most recent and biggest, I would say, is Vida, which is a show on Starz about a Latinx family with heavy queer representation, including in leading roles, and written by a queer Latinx woman, Tanya Saracho. We handed out that award on stage in Los Angeles. I think that’s something to consider too: the makeup of the room when we had physical events. There’s a lot of network executives [in the room], really key decision makers in terms of green-lighting new shows and renewing shows that are currently on the air, and [who are] creating content year-round. To be in that room and to give Tanya Saracho that stage moment on her amazing cast, one, it raised the bar because I think it’s rare for those network executives to see queer Latinx people on stage being recognized and to remember the importance of including a queer Latinx perspective. Also, the network executives were seeing that the show was getting some press attention, receiving some buzz on social media, and suddenly it was onstage. It was the award right after Queer Eye from Netflix, which won reality program that year, and right before Love, Simon, which won film that year. It really raised the profile of Vida, and then it got renewed for a second and a third season. We know that GLAAD’s early recognition and GLAAD’s promotion of the show year-round factored into network decisions about the future of the show.

LH: Thank you for sharing that. I’m wondering how you think the media awards have changed over time?

[By] honoring the content, we’re trying to send a message to the industry, to raise the bar and to greenlight more of this content.

Rich Ferraro

RF: Good question. It’s interesting because the stories that I’ve heard, especially from the early days of the GLAAD awards, is that they started in small conference rooms in New York in 1990. Phil Donahue was one of the honorees that year because he was one of the only people on TV who would talk about LGBTQ people in responsible way or at all. They grew into the most visible annual LGBTQ award show in the world. But it started, I think, as a real community event for queer people in the media. And now it’s become a very mainstream award show event where the people who are attending [are] not only queer people—there are a lot of allies who are network executives who attend the awards. There’s a lot of talent these days that attend who are our allies, so I think it’s grown in its reach. 

Also, the number of categories has obviously grown significantly. Because in the original days, there really wasn’t all that much content to honor because…that “fair, accurate, and inclusive criteria” was rarely met. These days, there’s a wealth of content. [Last year] we actually had to expand a lot of the categories from five nominees to ten nominees to honor more content because we know, like I said earlier, that by honoring the content, we’re trying to send a message to the industry, to raise the bar and to greenlight more of this content. It works really well in the media industry when one network is nominated and another is not. We get the phone call [from the network] on nominee day saying, “what happened? Why are none of my shows nominated?” And then we get to have the conversation and the meetings that say, well, you only have one show and it involves a suburban white gay male affluent couple, so it didn’t meet our criteria for diversity. Or if you look at these other 10 [networks], they’re beating you in terms of diversity and intersectionality. 

It does help guide some of the content as well. Like I said, when I was at MTV and at Viacom, on media award nomination day, they sent out an email to the full company, to Viacom Global, that some networks received nominations and others didn’t. The next question for the ones that didn’t was, “how can we do better? And let me call GLAAD to learn more about these awards because it’s important to our CEO that Viacom receive such recognition, and my counterparts other than networks are doing it. So what can I do?” 

LH: I’m glad that is something that can be shared on the record because I wasn’t sure if that sort of information could be shared publicly. You said that the GLAAD media awards are the most visible LGBTQ awards. I’m wondering how you think the media awards compare to other organizational awards, like the awards HRC and The Trevor Project give out. I’m wondering what you think makes the media awards different?

RF: Well, the categories have become quite competitive. And as a result, they’ve had an impact beyond just fundraising. They’ve had real world impact in that they’ve raised the bar for certain shows and for certain networks to improve the intersectional diversity around their queer representation. The awards themselves…are by far the most visible. Our press impressions, two years ago when we had in-person events, were close to eight billion. 

We spend a significant amount of time [planning] what happens on stage and who goes on stage because we know that those stage moments are not just seen by the people in the room, but by people around the world and by allies around the world as well. When we have some of Hollywood’s biggest names on stage at the GLAAD awards, yes, it sells tickets for the awards, but we approach it not only to fundraise in the room—we know that it carries a lot of impact. For instance, when Beyoncé and Jay Z were speaking about Beyoncé’s uncle who had HIV, and when Jay Z spoke to other straight cisgender Black guys about why and how he supports the community, those messages were not just for the people in the room who bought tickets. Those messages were for people around the world who idolized Beyoncé and Jay Z, and for queer people of color around the world who idolize them and who might not get that same level of acceptance in their everyday conversations. 

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez on the red carpet of the 2022 GLAAD Awards in LA, which she hosted in April

We really try and use our stage in a strategic way. We have close to if not over 200 media outlets on our red carpets as well…Those outlets, my team works with them. We have a little document that we send in advance, where if you want to cover the GLAAD awards, we encourage you, and oftentimes we mandate that you’re speaking and asking about issues, not about who was wearing what or who they’re dating. Also, what has been really fun is that we’ve gotten to use our red carpet for advocacy as well. Years ago, we revoked the credentials for the New York Post after really disgusting transphobic articles…It actually resulted in meetings with the New York Post about how to better cover the trans community.

LH: I guess reading between the lines, part of what you’re saying is that the award shows for other organizations are perhaps more focused on fundraising and more about who’s in the room on the day of, and not about the global media impact?

RF: I can’t say for certain, because I’m not working on them. We definitely view ours as more than putting on a production for the people in the room…They air on television as well. They’ve aired on LOGO for the last four or five years. So we put more emphasis on the stage program, because we know that the stage is not just going to reach the people in the room. We put a lot of time and energy and work with media to make sure that those messages extend beyond the walls of the room.

LH: Can you talk at all about televising the GLAAD awards, either from your perspective as somebody who worked at LOGO, or from your current position?

RF: I think actually the first year that they aired on LOGO was the year that I moved over [to Viacom] and I kind of brought them over with me because they had reached this level of visibility in mainstream media, and I think the general public was interested in watching them. Also, LOGO was a perfect home for the awards, since it was so focused on queer content and original content at the time. So the awards air on LOGO, but we also have so many members of the media who do live coverage of the events as well, in terms of who’s winning and what is being said on stage. In 2008 they aired on Bravo, and [last year] we [were] still in conversations with some networks about where they will air. [In 2020], of course they were moved from in-person to virtual. It was actually exciting because it allowed the general public a full view, because the version on LOGO wasn’t live, it was edited. The virtual event [in 2020] allowed a full view into every beat of the show, which was exciting for us, because generally we release clips after the show to media. There are some big moments that we know are going make a big splash in media, but it was great to make sure that all of the categories received equal footing [in 2020]. [Last year] they [were] virtual again.

LH: I remember when I worked at GLAAD, I would read emails or tweets from people who would complain that the GLAAD awards are too expensive, or how come you don’t air [the show] live. So this is an interesting way to meet that demand for people who want to be able to watch the show.

Up and coming queer talent have graced the GLAAD awards stage, it is often one of the first spots for queer talent who get a role on a TV show or in a mainstream film.

Rich Ferraro

RF: I think another thing we’ve tried to do over the years is, knowing how visible they are, how much media attention they get, and how many decision-makers attend the event, we’ve tried to introduce a lot of queer talent to the stage who might not be the biggest names in Hollywood just yet. Up and coming queer talent have graced the GLAAD awards stage, it is often one of the first spots for queer talent who get a role on a TV show or in a mainstream film. And the same on the journalist front. We take a lot of pride in the fact that journalists who are nominated or whose works are nominated in those categories use “GLAAD award nominee” on future resumes, in future pitches and in their portfolio. I’d say one of the strongest examples would be Laverne Cox, who appeared on the GLAAD award stage long before Orange Is the New Black became her breakout hit. We also gave her the Stephen F. Kozak Award in 2014, which I believe was the first year Orange Is the New Black [was eligible for awards], and she became the first trans woman of color to receive that award. It got her really visible mainstream press attention. I think that’s something that differentiates us from a lot of other fundraisers in the queer space is that our stage is covered not only by queer media, but by so many mainstream top tier press outlets as well.

Laverne Cox (and her mom!) on stage at the GLAAD awards in 2014 when she won the Stephen F. Kozak award

[Other fundraisers] usually have an honoree instead of competitive categories. I went through our process of screening, having a call for submissions, reviewing all of the content, having the committee select nominees, and then our winners are voted on by three groups of people. It’s GLAAD’s board of directors and staff, it’s GLAAD’s supporters who are donors at a certain level, and then the third category is a list of hundreds of media industry leaders. It’s a mix of journalists, producers and network executives, and previous winners as well.

LH: That probably is a much more complex process than some of the other organizations.

RF: I would love to just be like, that person’s a really popular queer actor, let’s put them on stage and call it a day.

LH: Getting into some critiques that people level at GLAAD, I’m curious to hear your responses to some of these things. Speaking of the honorees, I think there’s a critique that GLAAD is just awarding Hollywood, or giving too much credit to the industry, or giving too much credit to certain straight allies. How do you respond to that critique?

RF: We do have to respond to that and it’s an important one. I think there are two [critiques] that I always see. One is around the honorees. The honorees, they’re not competitive, there’s a queer and an ally honoree in each city, New York and LA. One thing that I’ve noticed is that sometimes people think that we’re only giving awards to an ally, but of course, we’re also recognizing a queer person with their own award as well. [In 2020] when we announced that we were honoring Taylor Swift and Janet Mock, it was really disheartening to see a lot of mainstream media and a lot of social media ignoring the fact that Janet Mock was on the same footing as Taylor Swift, and rightfully so! I think a lot of times the allies overshadow the queer honorees in media coverage and that’s something that we work to fix but that I think it is something important that we are also honoring a queer person.

I think that there will be people who feel that allies are not worthy of the recognition. But I always look to the stage itself, and when we have these global superstars speaking to the community when they accept their award, that’s such an opportunity to reach queer people and people who are their fans around the world to show them that this huge superstar supports the community, accepts the community. I’m happy to say on the record we pretty much all the time work with honorees on their speeches and make sure that current fights that the community is battling are included in those speeches. A great example of that is when Beyoncé spoke about the HIV epidemic in a time when media coverage had all but forgotten that HIV existed. Suddenly because of Beyoncé’s speech, HIV was once again in headlines, on People magazine even, in really mainstream general population outlets.

I think the GLAAD awards is one of the few times that we can work LGBTQ issues into those real gen pop, mass market media outlets, and we use and leverage the global stars and allies to do that. At the end of the day, that’s our response to that criticism. I think that we view the opportunity to reach people with messages from the stars as part of GLAAD’s mission and something that we feel strongly about and that we see work. We’ve had the press numbers to back that up. I was talking to a high schooler who we do some work with, and he said that he would watch speeches of the GLAAD awards on YouTube when he was trying to come out, and it was really helpful to see some of his favorite stars on our stage speaking out.

In terms of the competitive categories, I think something that a lot of folks don’t see is the behind the scenes of that day when nominees come out, and when the networks call us to ask why they didn’t make the cut [last year]. A lot of folks see the awards and the trophies, but don’t understand how year around, we’re having conversations as part of GLAAD’s mission on how they can improve coverage. The GLAAD awards are the carrot to allow us to do that. They work as really great leverage.

LH: Thank you for articulating all of that. I remember as a staff member, I was really surprised at how many workshops, like Trans 101 workshops, that GLAAD staff would give to different people in the industry, from journalists and writers to executives, and being really impressed with that advocacy work that is year-round. Another criticism: I see a lot of scholars level the critique that GLAAD promotes this binary way of looking at LGBTQ media representation, that there’s “good” and “bad” characters, and that GLAAD designates one or the other. As a staff member I felt like the work was more nuanced than that. I’m curious about how you would respond to that or what you think of that?

RF: I think it’s really difficult to transmit all of the conversations that we have with creators, especially because so many are behind the scenes, to the general public and to media. Oftentimes it can come across like we’re only working with the biggest or most recognizable shows…We also released diversity stats with our nominees on day one and all of the outlets who cover it report on that as well. We really do prioritize more complex and under-reported representations of queer people and issues. Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of complex or nuanced representations, but when they do, we try and make sure, like, Vida as a great example, to make sure that they are front and center on nominee day so that they’re viewed alongside that really popular shows like Schitt’s Creek. If you look at the journalism categories especially, we look at our list of nominees and vet them for many of the issues that face queer people, especially intersectional issues [last year]—racial justice, immigration, trans rights—to make sure that those issues are represented on our nominee list. The diversity list really focuses the journalists who report on it, so that they’re shining a spotlight on representations of queer people of color and not just the most popular shows that have made the cut. 

The cast of Vida on stage at the 2019 GLAAD awards

There also a lot of shows that have been popular, I believe [in 2020] Will & Grace and Modern Family were not nominated. They had huge impact, and they’ve had a huge impact in their legacies and in the years that they’ve been on TV, but our message to Hollywood, whether it’s the year-round advocacy that we do or the nominees, is that we really want more diverse representations of queer people and issues, not the same cis white gay male depictions.

LH: Thank you for stating that because I’ve heard this critique that GLAAD is most interested in promoting normative representations of queer people. And I appreciate you articulating that that’s actually not what the awards are about. 

RF: Yeah and I think even looking at some of the nominees [last year] is a good example of that. If you look at our comedy series nominees, there’s a lot of bi representation, there’s Killing Eve, which is bi representation but also a character who’s a vigilante, right? So it’s not about a good, well behaved queer person. We’ve honored villains as well.

LH: Those are so fun to honor and to watch! I guess I’m wondering if there’s any other sort of misconceptions that exist about GLAAD that you would want to correct?

Naomi Campbell at the GLAAD awards in 2014

RF: So many! Well, I think you’ve hit on a lot of them. I think noting…that companies are not buying these honors. In fact, they really are working to create content and meeting with us year-round to achieve being nominated. We know that they view it as something that is valuable for them from a business and reputation standpoint. We don’t take that lightly at all. In terms of the [GLAAD Awards] stage itself, we really view the massive mainstream media attention as a big responsibility. Some of my favorite moments at the GLAAD awards have been Naomi Campbell speaking about trans models and how important it is to get the industry to accept them for who they are. That became a really viral moment where she called up Carmen Carrera. This was in 2014 or 2015 around the marriage equality fight, it was really powerful to have Betty White on stage and she spoke out for the first time about why and how she supported marriage equality. We also have interspersed everyday people onto the stage. Two years ago, we had service members who are transgender speaking out against the trans military ban or when the Boy Scouts ban…you might’ve been at GLAAD during that time? When we were pushing for the Boy Scout ban, we had a mom who was ousted from her son’s den as a den mother speaking on stage.[7] She had a GLAAD petition with us and, and she got Josh Hutcherson to sign her petition and other celebrities. So it became this moment of advocacy, even though it was our big fundraising gala. We always try and weave those advocacy moments in. I don’t think that people see that deliberate work behind those moments. A lot of times I think people think that people get up on stage and say what they want to say, without realizing that we’ve really put strategy and intention behind what they say, how they say it, and how we could turn that into action and advocacy and leverage the power of Hollywood to bring change.

LH: I remember, in one of my first weeks of working at GLAAD, I started right before the media awards 2013, you asked me to go to the Boy Scout store and buy an outfit for Madonna. 

Madonna in her boy scout outfit at the GLAAD awards in 2013

RF: And that became part of pop culture history! Years later, Bob the Drag Queen was on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which was actually oddly the season I was the publicist for, Bob was on Drag Race and they had a Madonna runaway, and Bob wore a Boy Scout outfit because of that moment. And it became such a viral sensation, that the mainstream media talked about this ban. And it kept the fire on the Boy Scouts for sure.

LH: I didn’t know about the Bob the Drag Queen moment! That’s amazing.

Bob the Drag Queen in Madonna Boy Scout drag

RF: Very random. I still have the receipts from the Boy Scouts store somewhere.

LH: That was a moment. That was a really fun time to start [working at GLAAD]. I’m wondering if there’s anything else that you want to share about GLAAD or about the media awards?

RF: I think the intentional selection and focus on diversity often gets overlooked. People will see Schitt’s Creek and that’s it, but there were almost 200 nominees [last year]. A lot of the nominees were not in the headlines. The GLAAD awards are helping a lot of the journalists on that list. Like I said, they use the GLAAD awards for future work. And a lot of the smaller shows are finally getting recognized. 

Our special recognition category is something I wanted to mention actually. In addition to the competitive categories, there are oftentimes media projects that don’t fit into those competitive categories. So we have a special recognition category, not competitive, but [last year] it [included] the return of Noah’s Arc, which was a show with all queer black men, some of the characters living with HIV, that returned [in 2020] for a special Coronavirus episode. That’s getting a special recognition. Rain Valdez’s short form comedy series that she wrote and stars in, a trans romantic comedy short form series, [was] also recognized [last year]. The special recognition is another spot where we pump up diverse queer talent in Hollywood, like Patrick Ian Pope and Rain Valdez, to try get them attention. I think Hollywood, and the media covering Hollywood, all of the trades, overlook them. So we try and use the awards to get them attention and visibility as well.

Trans actresses Rain Valez, Angelica Ross, Geena Rocero and Jen Richards at the GLAAD Awards in 2017

LH: Thank you for making sure to mention that. One thing that struck me [while working at GLAAD] was that the mission of GLAAD hasn’t necessarily shifted significantly, but the work shifts according to who’s on staff and who’s in leadership. I think there’s this idea that the organization is always the same I think people don’t realize that it evolves over time in response to the staff and the board. I wonder if there’s anything that you want to comment about that.

GLAAD’s Director of Transgender Media & Representation, Nick Adams, with a number of trans actors and producers (Rhys Ernst, Shadi Petosky,  Laverne Cox, Joey Soloway, and Alexandra Billings) backstage during the ‘Transgender Trends on TV Today Panel’ portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour

RF: That’s a really good point. Well, Nick Adams was part of the nominee selection. He’s our Director of Transgender Representation and has been at GLAAD for over 20 years and he’s been working on the GLAAD awards throughout all of that time. I can’t believe I’m one of the long-time staff members as well. But GLAAD staff does have turnover. We also bring on new industry people to the list of voters that I mentioned every year, to make sure that the people selecting award recipients represent the community and are diverse. I think we have not seen the same levels of diversity issues with the GLAAD awards with other mainstream Hollywood shows like the Oscars, because we approach our nominees with that lens already. I think that the awards definitely are so visible that it often overshadows the work of GLAAD year-round. One, a lot of our campaigns are behind the scenes, so the world does not know that GLAAD is behind some of the works that my colleagues on the entertainment team have worked really closely on, whether it’s helping cast, helping the script, reviewing scripts, giving notes, meeting on set, and training executives and production staff on how to tell queer stories, all of that. So I think that a lot of our work by nature has to be behind the scenes so we don’t get credit for it. But also in terms of campaigns that we do each and every day, a lot of those campaigns are overshadowed by the glamour of the GLAAD awards. And people think that GLAAD is just defined as that glamour. At least for the GLAAD awards, we really do approach and leverage that to reach people with messages of acceptance and LGBTQ issues that otherwise E! News would not be covering.

Lauren Herold is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Kenyon College. Her work explores community media, television history, and feminist and LGBTQ cultural production. Herold’s dissertation considers 1970s-1990s public access TV programming made by and for LGBTQ people as a televisual archive that offers insight into the structures of feeling circulating in queer communities. She holds a PhD in Screen Cultures from Northwestern University.

Rich Ferraro is GLAAD’s Chief Communications Officer and an Executive Producer of the GLAAD Media Awards. He oversees GLAAD’s Communications department as well as GLAAD’s Press, Talent Relations, News and Rapid Response, and Creative departments. He also leads GLAAD’s social media team, which was recognized as an Official Honoree at the 2020 Webby Awards in the category for “Social: Public Service & Activism.” Ferraro leads much of GLAAD’s behind-the-scenes work with journalists, content creators, social media platforms, and global brands. Since he started at GLAAD in 2008, Ferraro has worked on hundreds of LGBTQ-inclusive media projects and in 2015 he received a Daytime Emmy Award as part of the team behind the MTV and Logo documentary “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word.” He is a graduate of The George Washington University and a proud native of NYC.


1. Vincent Doyle, Making Out in the Mainstream: GLAAD and the Politics of Respectability (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016), 10.

2. Amy Villarejo, Ethereal Queer: Television, Historicity, Desire (Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2014), 3–5.

3. Alfred L. Martin, “For Scholars … When Studying the Queer of Color Image Alone Isn’t Enough,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 17, no. 1 (January 2, 2020): 70,

4. Julia Himberg, The New Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 7.

5. Himberg, 79.

6. Himberg, 133.

7. Starting in 2012, GLAAD began working with activists to repeal the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay Scouts and gay Scout leaders. The Boy Scouts of America finally repealed the ban in 2015.

Further reading by Lauren Herold:

Affective production value on queer community television: a case study of the Gay Cable Network and Gay USA

The Forgotten Gay Cable Network That Changed LGBTQ History