Story at a glance

  • GLAAD, a non-governmental media monitoring organization, advocates for LGBTQ+ representation in media.
  • Ahead of the presidential debates, the organization is asking moderators to ask questions about issues relevant to the LGBTQ+ community.
  • The NGO is also working to increase voter registration among LGBTQ+ adults.

Ahead of the first presidential and vice-presidential debates, Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, sent a letter to moderators Chris Wallace and Susan Page asking them to pose a question about LGBTQ+ Americans to the candidates. She was left disappointed.

“We are being left out of the conversation. This is exactly what happened in 2016 as well, we were left out of the conversation, and it's too critical, we’re too big of a voting bloc and our lives are in crisis,” Ellis told Changing America. 

In 2019, there were an estimated 9 million LGBTQ+ adults registered to vote, according to the Williams Institute, half of which are Democrats. GLAAD partnered with Headcount earlier this year for a voter registration campaign, targeting the 21 percent of LGBTQ+ adults who were not registered. 

”That’s been a community effort from the LGBTQ community because our rights are on the ballot this year,” Ellis said. 

Voting rights, which have become a hot button issue due to the coronavirus pandemic, are an overriding concern for some in the LGBTQ+ community whose gender marker on required identification does not match their lived identity. Legal gender recognition without prohibitive medical requirements is available in some states, but not others.  

“I do think we’ve come a long way and then I do think that I would’ve expected us to come further. In the last four years we’ve seen significant rollbacks in policy and significant uptick in negative discriminatory rhetoric,” Ellis said. 

Initially an acronym for "Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation," GLAAD was founded in 1986 as a non-governmental media monitoring organization. But the NGO has found it impossible to stay out of politics this election season. 

“Since the Trump administration took over we have been documenting the attacks from this administration on the LGBTQ community in policy rollbacks and in rhetoric and in cabinet and administration picks who are anti-LGBTQ and have anti-LGBTQ records,” said Ellis. “We are at 175 to date attacks on our community in three-and-a-half years.”


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Despite President Trump naming the first openly gay person to a cabinet-level position, his administration has reversed several Obama-era protections - taking one step forward and two steps back. The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court justice has only upped the stakes for the LGBTQ+ community. Barrett's opposition to marriage equality, transgender protections under Title IX and broad legal interpretations of abortion rights is “an attack on our community,” said Ellis. 

The day after the election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a cause brought by a taxpayer-funded, religious-affiliated foster care agency against the city to reject same sex couples as adopters. 

“What we have seen is one after another court case testing and questioning not only our rights but quite frankly our dignity,” Ellis said. 

While the Biden-Harris ticket received mixed reactions from the LGBTQ+ community, Ellis is hopeful that under a Democratic administration, Congress will pass the Equality Act. The legislation prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity across the board. But for that to happen, pro-LGBTQ+ candidates need to be elected all down the ballot. 

“We’re hoping that this is going to be a rainbow tsunami, because we know that when you elect LGBTQ people they are pro-equality and they care deeply about the climate, they care deeply about science, they care deeply about equality, they care deeply about Black Lives Matter, they care deeply about women’s autonomy to control their own bodies, so I think that it’s not just about LGBTQ equality, it is about justice for all,” Ellis said. 


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At least 850 LGBTQ+ candidates have appeared or will appear on ballots in the United States this election season –– a record number that is almost twice as many as the 2018 election cycle, according to the LBGTQ Victory Fund. But a year that began with an openly gay Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in the nation’s history has also brought a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community

“One of the largest challenges for us has been our visibility through this, because we are not counted,” Ellis said. 

In April, the Food and Drug administration relaxed its restrictions on gay and bisexual men being allowed to donate blood after a blood shortage due to the pandemic. Instead of one year, LGBTQ+ men who have sex with other men need to wait three months. It’s an improvement, Ellis said, but there’s still more room. 

“That is a policy that is based now in stigma and not science and it continues the stigma for our community not only of HIV and AIDS but more broadly of being promiscuous of being sick,” she said. 

At the same time, the transgender community is facing a second epidemic. A record number of transgender Americans were fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2020 and there are still three months left in the year. 

“This is a crisis for our community. It is unsafe to be trans and in America today and that needs to be confronted head on. That’s why this election is so important,” Ellis said. 

Still, there are other markers of progress this year, especially in the media and entertainment industries. With the issue of representation taking center stage at awards ceremonies, Ellis said the NGO is working closely with creators in Hollywood to write storylines that help destigmatize HIV. Its own, the GLAAD Media Awards, recognizes and honors various branches of the media for their representations of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Our job is representation and so we know that who we put on the stage at the GLAAD media awards has a significant impact and so we are always making sure that we have all of the voices of our community on the stage,” Ellis said.

This year's GLAAD awards winner for Outstanding Drama Series, “Pose,” is a personal favorite of Ellis’ and gives her hope for future progress.  

“Here is a gay white man in Hollywood who has access and power and has brought in people from his own community who have been marginalized and silenced, given them a platform and let them run with it to tell their stories,” she said. “It just gives me chills every time I think about that show.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been edited to correctly reference Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate - not the first openly gay presidential candidate, as a previous version misstated.


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Published on Oct 08, 2020