Not included in the news that former Massachusetts legislator Jarrett Barrios would taking over GLAAD is that PR bigshot Cathy Renna was also in the running. And in at least one area, she would’ve been a great pick: she might’ve made GLAAD relevant again.
Renna is the name behind Renna Communications, which has sent you a press release if you’ve worked a day in gay media. She’s also responsible for GLAAD’s media training program — arguably the most visible aspect of the organization’s outreach. But when GLAAD’s board was picking the successor to Neil Giuliano, they passed over her. Maybe they shouldn’t have?
Nothing against Barrios (he’s not on the job yet, so we’ll leave him out of this for now), but Renna’s approach to what a gay advocacy organization should be in this era actually sounds like … she has a clue what we need from giant gay activist organizations.
The problem with the GLAADs of the world (read: Gay Inc.) is that their noble purpose fulfilled in decades past (i.e. visibility and media outreach, working with legislators and communities) is expiring. In its place: Grassroots organizations fueled by the web, micro-donations, and a purpose that’s greater than black tie fundraisers and red carpet awards galas. While GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign are very good at handing out awards to folks doing good things for gays (like actors promoting positive images of gays on TV), the only other thing they seem qualified to do these days is issue press releases.
We’ve complained about the tendency of Gay Inc. orgs to “applaud,” “congratulate,” “respond,” and “condemn.” All day and all night, these organizations react to the news cycle, spitting out a soundbite-friendly piece of politically correct … bullshit.
GLAAD is either clapping its hands or furrowing its brow. This is not activism. This is couch potato finger-waving. And it makes you wonder: For all those regular deductions Gay Inc. takes from our bank accounts, why do we get the feeling half of those funds are being used to copy/paste the same tired language nobody responds to anymore?
It’s not just that a statement from GLAAD — about “faggot” bloggers or Adam Lambert — doesn’t even matter anymore. (They’re good for CNN to quote from to get “our” side.) But these statements, increasingly, are devoid of any sense of true activism.
And that’s why we’re crushing on Renna. Having started GLAAD’s media training program and served as its first National News Media Director, Renna (pictured with wife Leah, left, and their daughter) is also atop the org’s list of critics. Though she notes, in an interview with Edge Boston, that she’s not “being critical of the organization’s existence, more of the direction it is heading in,” she knows GLAAD’s faults.
As for that direction, Renna refers to GLAAD’s handling of [Perez] Hilton and Bruno as indicative of their bad habit of issuing “press releases that applaud or condemn” at the expense of acknowledging that “most of what we’re dealing with in the culture is about nuance; that grey area.”
Renna recalls that during her tenure at GLAAD, whenever addressing some kind of controversial representation which could be perceived as homophobic, she was constantly aware “that it is very important to talk about the context of the presentation: the intent. Frankly, the goal is not about squelching speech or in some non-subjective way saying thumbs up or down. GLAAD is not the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Its role, instead, should be “to promote conversation” rather than control language.
That “conversation” GLAAD is driving, to be sure, is happening inside the homes of the rest of America — and less and less, the gay community. Where GLAAD excels, and remains important, is in reaching the ninety-ish percent of straight America and reminding them they’ve all got gays among their loved ones, and we deserve the same rights and compassion.
But inside the gay community, its message continues to be lost. GLAAD increasingly grows out of touch, while individuals with Tumblr and YouTube accounts generate growing visibility and mobilization for far fewer dollars. Increasingly, it’s these messages driving the dialogue about equality, not GLAAD’s eye roll-inducing press release factory that is boringly predictable and predictably boring.
As Barrios inherits GLAAD, and Renna watches from afar, we’ll be eagerly waiting to see whether GLAAD continues walking through the tumbleweeds toward obscurity, or pulls a 180 and returns to relevance. We’re wishing-and-a-hoping for the latter.
I’m not one to nitpick spelling, but your headline is absolutely atrocious! Try ‘tired’ and ‘condemning’?
Carmex for Cold Sores
Anything channelled through the media is suspect in my eyes. GLAAD Bags understand their niche, and I wonder if they really have the best interests of unity at heart. They seem inclined to benefit from homophobia in the sense that they would not exist without it, and this goes for any WELL FUNDED ESTABLISHED so called “civil rights” organization. Anytime money and hollywood are involved I sneer and roll my eyes.
For the record, in some parts of America (such as Kansas City, where I live), Gay Inc. is doing at least some of the grassroots organizing. The Prop 8 protests and other events were put together by local chapters of HRC and GLAAD.
lol GLAAD can never win. They get accused of being the PETA of the gay community when they release such extremely passive statements about being concerned about the homophobia (is this really “condemning”?) in Bruno or they get called “too lax” for doing whatever you haven’t told them you want them to do or not following some vague plan that you came up with.
They’re always wrong and imperfect unfortunately.
But GLAAD is the root of all even that is sucking up our gay monies! 🙁
That should be “of all evil” not even.
I truly don’t understand why GLAAD exists. If they were a business they would have shut their doors long ago because they have no tangible or even useful “product” or “service” that they are selling.
Excuse me but I live in Los Angeles and the GLAAD organization gets a ton of support from the [Gay] Hollywood community. I myself am very proud to donate great financial support to GLAAD and the HRC campaign because of their unending support and positive enthusiasm for the Gays and Lesbians in the media and elsewhere. For Queerty to write this article shows lack of consideration and unity for American Gays and Lesbians. I am appalled at reading this article.
I was generally wary of GLAAD until I did some volunteer work with them and realized what they actually did. What many people don’t realize is the immense amount of work that is done by the field reps in the midwest and south. I’ve witnessed what GLAAD reps can do for LGBT coverage in many smaller towns and it really is incredible. I’ve seen very problematic coverage in the media where I lived (central Illinois) and GLAAD was able to get results, usually very quickly. Much of their work is dealing directly with reporters, many in small towns and surprisingly they do change stories and get positive coverage in many areas where I couldn’t imagine it.
The outreach they do to journalists who may never have been reached by a LGBT group can accomplish a lot and I’ve seen it up close involving a number of stories ranging from hate crime coverage in my town to articles on transgender individuals. I would like to see more focus on the work that they really excel in, but overall I think that they are a fantastic organization.
Is this website any different? Does queerty do anything other then “couch potato finger-waving”?
For starters, maybe you should give this guy a chance before you think he is the wrong choice.
On top of that, do you care to show me these “grass roots” activist outside of NYC and the states that already gave us our rights anyways? Please show me a large group of “grass roots” activist in places outside of the coasts. They simply don’t exist. GLADD has done much more work outside of the coastal regions than the non-existent “grass roots” activists have. You know, the places where gay men are afraid to join hands in public for fear of being thrown out of public places or getting a beat down on the way to the car.
Excuse me but I have an opinion..how much $ is that guy making?
New GLAAD Executive Director is not qualified
I appreciate the vote of confidence and kind words, but hope that people realize I really do want the best for glaad. I hope jarrett is able to turn the organization around. our movement need glaad at its best – and all of our organizations – at this critical time of potential progress and a new generation that expects more from us
and for those who mention the good work – glaad absolutely does good work, and there are some very specific recent cases of on the ground work, but I think the real issue is one of accountability – are we, as a community (and in particular their donors) getting what they should from an organization with about 8 million a year to spend? this is not just a glaad issue of course, our movement needs to be smarter and more strategic about our resources and as many have pointed out, but the reality is that glaad was a more effective, visible, nuanced and strategic organization when is was smaller but more focused and efficient.
I agree with Cathy. Many of our organizations suffer from mission drift and could use a refocusing. I also am stunned at the constant creation of new organizations that appear to do the work of existing organizations. A recent example would be Servicemembers United, which seems like a more grassroots SLDN. Why not just have it be a program of SLDN?
Is the same Cathy from the article?
Que~rty may grab people’s attentions and views but it’s not a place for any kind of civil or (intelligent) discourse at all (with article titles like “If you find Bruno offensive, you‘re a moron“ I wouldn‘t expect any different). It reads like a celebrity tabloid with sexy pictures and outrageousness to shock and draw you in. They have a history of being incredibly divisive, spreading misinformation, misrepresenting organizations opinions or agendas and sometimes even drawing on the racist sentiment many of its readers have to get attention.
Most of the opinions you’ll get here will be polarized with very little wiggle room. The people that hate GLAAD will agree because they already hate GLAAD and the ones that are suspicious of the intent because it’s Que~rty or the ones who see the better sides of GLAAD will become defensive because it seems like its become Que~rty’s new punching bag.
I still use it to cross check with other gay blogs that might not have news I want like the gay actor story so it’s not all bad but it’s just not a place for discourse. It’s very hostile to any in betweens or any gray areas.
Yes, this is Cathy Renna – and I agree that it is hard to find places for good discourse and debate but this article is, like much of the content here and on many lgbt sites, opinion based, not “pure journalism” (as if that really exists ;-))
it is also based on a piece on Edge.com that is far longer:
I hope that people try to not polarize too much and are constructively critical about all of our groups – the work we do at Renna Comm is also community based and I hold myself and the staff to a VERY high standard – that’s all I hope for and want from others in the movement
Uh, if it weren’t for groups like the HRC, GLAAD, and Lambda Legal that you guys like to utterly blast constantly, you would probably be getting a taste of what it was like to be GLBT in the 50’s.
that isn’t what I think people are saying – what many in our community (such as it is) are asking for are for organizations to grow and evolve with the changing culture – and be effective give their increased size and influence. this is not about a lack of gratitude for past work, it is a cry for more and better activism at a time where we could be making more progress
Cmon- i dont get how a disgruntled ex employee and someone who was recenty passed over for the prez job at glaad can be unbiased in her comments-if renna really means what she said when she said she holds “myself and the staff to a VERY high standard”(see No 16)she wouldnt be commenting on a reporter’s questions about glaad -at least give glaad a rest-whats that called – a cooling down period-
i think cat’s got some great ideas specially about conversations-but think that watch dog groups out there have to call out the media and television when they use gay bashing words that kids watch on tv and go into school and repeat-i dont want my daughter being exposed to that -and i am hoping if renna has kids she wouldnt want her kids having to listen to that mean stuff either-it should be zero tolerance and then the conversation can begin
I totally admit the first two times I read this article while it was on the front page but after accidentally coming upon it again I think I can understand it better.
Cathy I understood your post best when you expressed it through examples like the NYPost one. I still disagree about the ‘faggot’ part of the article but I’m curious to how would you have handled “Bruno”? Would you have responded to it at all or use a different method?
It’s one of the examples used to show GLAAD’s bad handing but I don’t fully understand the criticism made in the article. Should they ignore it or address it differently?
I think GLAAD did a fair job of handling it as we got closer to release – Jarrett’s statement, for example, was far more nuanced than their original “some people will like, some people will hate it” comments without context. I have said a million times, entertainment images are the most subjective and challenging to deal with (ask me why I work almost exclusively on news issues ;-)). I think two pieces of messaging that were missing from glaad’s analysis of Bruno – and are often missing from many of our national orgs are the underlying reasons for the bias against characters like Bruno (or Jack from Will and Grace for that matter). One, the underlying sexism (feminine=bad, especially for a man) as well as the generalized problem of our only being shown in 2 ways – only about sex or completely desexualized, it goes back to the major paradox in our culture that we are petrified to talk honestly and without shame about sex but use sex to SELL everything. and I am really talking about gay men here – lesbian and bi women deal with a whole other set of issues that are complex in different ways. In the interviews I did about Bruno I was able to articulate those points and got a lot of feedback – I now sound bites can be limiting but we can be more sophisticated than we think with media.
I do have a child – a four year old – and as a parent it is MY responsibility to minimize her exposure to things I think are inappropriate. we have always had zero tolerance for any racism, sexism, homophobia etc etc, whether it was in hiring a caretaker or looking at pre-schools or what she reads or watches. Trust me, we are very vigilant but also know that more and more we will need to give my daughter the tools she needs to live in a world that does not always legally respect nor like her parents.
i am not sure what that has to do with my being asked questions by a reporter – I am not a fan of “no comment” or “would not be interviewed for this article” and don’t see why I should not talk to a journalist about issues that I care about, know a lot about and are pertinent to my business and my field. glaad is made up of grown ups and should be able to handle the feedback of the community on their actions
First off, no one could make GLAAD relevant again. Second, have any of you ever worked with Cathy Renna? In my opinion, the only things she really excels at are name-dropping and taking credit for other people’s work, though shilling for herself may be her greatest talent. Third, GLAAD’s press releases have applauded/condemnded various people, places, and things for years–even when Cathy worked there–so if she’s so great, why didn’t she change everything she thinks is so wrong with the organization back then? Oh yeah, because she alienated most of the staff and few wanted to work with her…
fascinating opinion Nighthawk, got a real name to give it ANY credibility?
Cathy must not have many cleients these days because she seems to be spending a large part of her day posting anti GLAAD messages on blogs.
Anything she writes must be taken as a disgruntled ex-GLADD staffer who thinks she should have been named the new GLADD President. One of the many reasons she was passed over was because she was more concerned with promoting herself rather than the organization she worked for.
Talk to the people in New Hampshire about the work GLAAD did on the Marriage Equality issiue and you see that a great deal of the positive work they do doesn’t make news.
Anyone who has know Jarrett Barrios from his tireless work in Massachusetts knows he is more than qualified to take the helm at GLADD.
I appreciate your concern, but business is fine. I guess part of being involved in the community is having to deal with anonymous ad hominem attacks, which is fine.
If you read what I have written in prior comments (taking all of 5 minutes of my time) you’ll see that anti-GLAAD (not spelling of acronym, BTW, you got it wrong few times) is not exactly what I would call them.
I know better than anyone that a lot of good work is behind the scenes and absolutely acknowledge it – Maine, the work on Angie Zapata’s murder trial, etc etc.
Fascinating that you seem to know more about the confidential hiring process than the rest of us – i don’t buy it, since self-promotion was the last thing on my mind. Presenting my vision and strategy for glaad in challenging political, media and economic times was my only concern.
and FWIW, I wish only the best for Jarrett – we need glaad to be effective and his leadership is much needed in the community
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