Six GLAAD Board Members Depart in Wake of Barrios Resignation
When a former member of the board of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Laurie Perper, appeared on Michelangelo Signorile’s radio show, she told the gay writer and talk program host that the group’s reputation had suffered so much during the tenure of its then-president, former Massachusetts state lawmaker Jarrett Barrios, that GLAAD should simply disband.
Now, with the abrupt departure of six GLAAD board members in the wake of Barrios’ June 18 resignation, the long-term prospects of the media watchdog seem less certain.
What is more, one board member who did not resign apparently worked with an anti-gay group in the past.
"Some board members were said to have resigned because of concerns that GLAAD failed to adhere to its conflict of interest standards and to protest GLAAD’s failure to protect its president, Jarrett Barrios, who submitted his letter of resignation to the group Saturday amid a growing backlash in the gay blogosphere over the group’s AT&T stance," a June 22 Politico article said.
One departing board member, Randi Weingarten, emailed Politico to say that her resignation was not related to the situation that served as the backdrop to Barrios’ resignation. Weingarten, noted the Politico article, serves as the head of the American Federation of Teachers.
"Jarrett Barrios was an extraordinary leader at GLAAD, and my resignation had nothing to do with his fine work," another departing board member, Gary Bitner, told Politico in an email.
Barrios reportedly resigned after the board threatened to fire him in the face of growing criticism over letters Barrios sent to the FCC that seemed to support corporate sponsor AAT&T at the expense of network neutrality, a policy of ensuring that access to online content is unduly influenced by powerful interests.
A Jan. 4, 2010, letter to the FCC endorsing a merger between two telecommunications giants, AT&T and T-Mobile, appeared to have been sent by Barrios, as it was on GLAAD letterhead and bore his signature.
Barrios wrote to the FCC subsequently, in a missive dated Jan. 15. 2010, to claim that the earlier letter had "been submitted under my name and title without my permission," and had gone on to claim, "The signature is not in my hand. I have never seen this letter and it is not my signature."
Barrios later offered an alternate explanation, saying that the first letter had been the result of a miscommunication in which Barrios unwittingly authorized his assistant to send the letter, which contained "verbatim" language provided by AT&T.
"GLAAD does not endorse AT&T’s position" on net neutrality, Rich Ferraro, the media watchdog’s communications director, eventually stated. "GLAAD believes that equal, fair and universal access to the Internet is vital to our community and to our national dialogue. While GLAAD does not take a position on particular legislation or regulations, we continue to believe in the importance of adhering to these values."
Towleroad outlined the complicated story behind the letters in a June 10 article, recounting how the gay media and the mainstream media alike had taken note of the original letter to the FCC and remarking on the ambiguous nature of its message, which superficially appeared to argue for "net neutrality," but which, it seemed, was actually making a case against it.
Towleroad also noted -- as did other sources from which it drew its article -- that AT&T has provided financial support to GLAAD.
The mix-up intensified questions about Barrios’ capacity to lead the GBT advocacy organization effectively. On June 18 Barrios, reportedly faced with a choice of being dismissed or leaving of his own accord, stepped down.
"When Jarrett Barrios became head of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, many were hoping that it would mark a new era of activism," a June 19 EDGE article on Barrios’ departure recounted. "The venerable organization, one of the best-funded and best-connected in the media and corporate worlds, had come in for criticism for being too cozy with the organizations it was supposed to be monitoring."
The EDGE article noted that the AT&T imbroglio "wasn’t the first time GLAAD had appeared ham-handed in its dealings with a large corporation. Only a few months after Barrios took office, GLAAD was involved in controversy when it defended ABC’s decision to cancel Adam Lambert’s appearances on the network after the singer kissed a band member during a performance at the American Music Awards."
The article went on to add that Barrios’ tenure at the organization, which monitors media depictions of GLBTs and seeks to ensure fairness and accuracy in media presentations of gay Americans, their families, and their lives, initially seemed promising.
"Barrios was considered a breath of fresh air for GLAAD and national gay organizations in general when he ascended to the presidency in September 2009," the article said. "He had been a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate. He also headed the state’s largest private health provider, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.
"The fact that he was of Hispanic heritage and spoke Spanish fluently was widely seen as a sign that GLAAD was reaching out to minority communities," the article added.
Barrios had also achieved a measure of respect in the GLBT community for his eloquent speeches as lawmakers in Massachusetts debated on whether or not to put the rights of gay and lesbian families to a popular vote following the legalization of marriage equality in that state, the first time same-sex families could legally wed in America.
The Politico article reported that a statement from the six board members who stepped down referred to ""various reasons" for the departures. No specifics were given, however; the statement declared that "there’s been too much unfair and false information spread about GLAAD" already.
"We believe that GLAAD plays a vital role in our community and wish it only the best," read the joint the statement. "We also thank GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios for his service and his 20 plus years he has committed to social justice and the LGBT community."
"In their letters of resignation, the six former board members expressed concern over the board leadership’s failure to enforce GLAAD’s conflict of interest policy regarding the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile deal," Politico claimed a source told them.
The head of an anti-gay organization seized the flap as an example of why corporate America should not support GLBT workers or take a stance on equality before the law for sexual minorities.
Claiming that "GLAAD crossed the line -- even with their supporters -- in accepting a corporate payoff in exchange for their own effort to pressure government regulators," Family Research Council head Tony Perkins declared that, "Corporations would be on safer ground if they would steer clear of groups like GLAAD and simply remain neutral in the culture wars."
The FRC also made the news last year when it was revealed in the press that one of the group’s co-founders, anti-gay crusader George Rekers, had hired a 20-year-old male escort off RentBoy.com to accompany him on a European vacation. Rekers claimed that nothing sexual took place between himself and the younger man, but the escort told the media that he provided Rekers with erotic massages on a daily basis.
Rekers returned to the news recently when CNN profiled the tragic case of a man Rekers had treated as a boy. Rekers administered a course of "treatment" designed to eradicate the child’s "effeminacy," with Rekers citing his "success" in the case for decades afterwards.
But the subject of the treatment, Kirk Murphy, came out as gay in his 20s. According to his family, Murphy was never the same happy individual he had been before being subject to the attempt to "cure " him. Murphy hanged himself at age 38.
Even as the six board members exited GLAAD, one controversial figure remained in place. The Washington Blade reported on June 22 that Troup Coronado -- formerly a lobbyist for AT&T -- had previously worked for anti-gay group the Heritage Foundation, doing minority outreach.
Coronado also had been a board member with several other GLBT equality advocacy groups that sent similar letters to the FCC endorsing the merger, including the Equality California Institute, the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Council, and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Blade reported.
"Each of these organizations [except for the HRC] sent seemingly innocuous, nearly identical letters to the FCC containing language supporting the telecom industry’s position against net neutrality," the Blade article said.
"Coronado was once an executive at AT&T, as well as a lobbyist for AT&T’s former parent company, BellSouth," the article added. "Coronado left his position at AT&T late last year to launch a consultant firm -- where it is alleged one of his most prominent clients is AT&T. The company reportedly tasked Coronado with securing LGBT organizational support for the AT&T/T-Mobile merger."