New GLAAD Grants Program Aims to Amplify LGBTQ Voices to Create a More Inclusive World (Guest Column)

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As the advocacy organization launches a new program to provide funding and mentorships, GLAAD's director of entertainment media reflects on the value of seeing positive LGBTQ characters.

LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD today (Feb. 7) launched glaadgrants, which provides completion funding and professional mentorships to content creators for in-progress works that advance GLAAD’s mission of amplifying diverse voices from the LGBTQ community. Submissions are being received until 5 p.m. PT on Friday, March 24.

As a Puerto Rican boy in Chicago’s inner city during the 1950s, diversity was something I took for granted. My south-side grade school, playgrounds and city streets were occupied by others who looked like me, and those who didn’t. But in the evenings, when we gathered around our small black-and-white TV, the world looked different. I didn’t see myself — not in Beaver Cleaver, not in Robert Young, not in Dobie Gillis.

The one face I did recognize, because he looked just like my dad, was Ricky Ricardo’s (I Love Lucy). When he sang "Babalu," I was on my feet salsa dancing in the living room. Seeing my life on the screen was unimaginably powerful — and fun.

Despite my captivation, however, there was still a part of myself I never saw on the screen. The part of me that was attracted to men — a secret I hid from those around me. I looked, but I never found a gay version of Ricky on television. And years later, all I saw in the movies were tragic, lonely and suicidal stories of LGBTQ people: Tea and Sympathy, The Children’s Hour and The Boys in the Band. I felt they signaled my future, and I saw no other storylines that gave me hope.

That’s part of the power that media has. Even within the seemingly benign category of “entertainment,” movies and TV have the power to affirm or invalidate our humanity and identity. Images and content matter, to ourselves and to others around the world. In the absence of knowing someone who is LGBTQ, seeing them in film, television or other platforms is the next best thing to knowing who they are, how they live their lives and how they can be treated with respect. Media can either accelerate or stymie acceptance and cultural understanding; and, in some cases, it can also provide ammunition to those already predisposed to bias, hate and violence against LGBTQ individuals. This is why entertainment media is so impactful, and it is also why more diverse representation is an imperative.

So in order to motivate content creators to tell stories that accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ people at home and around the world, GLAAD today launched a new grants program called glaadgrants to ensure that more LGBTQ stories reach the big and small screens. With a special emphasis on underrepresented voices, this new initiative empowers people to tell stories, amplify their voices and create fair, accurate and inclusive worlds on film, television and digital media.

According to GLAAD’s 2016 Studio Responsibility Index, only 17.5 percent of all 2015 major film studio releases included LGBTQ-identified characters, with decreased racial diversity over the preceding year. And of the 895 series regular characters expected to appear on broadcast primetime scripted programming within the 2016-2017 television season, according to our most recent Where We Are on TV report, only 4.8 percent were counted as LGBTQ. The expansion into digital platforms, such as Hulu, Amazon and Netflix, is bringing inclusive and often groundbreaking portrayals of LGBTQ characters, but more is needed.

While GLAAD continues to devote countless hours to meetings with studio and network executives, showrunners and staff at all levels of the creative process, we are committing resources to developing a pipeline of new and exciting talent that will be poised to become tomorrow’s LGBTQ leaders in Hollywood. In addition to financial grants and mentorships provided by industry professionals through glaadgrants, writers, editors, cinematographers, directors and documentarians will also be supported by making sure the entertainment industry is aware of these new voices and knows where to find them. This is an investment we make today for tomorrow’s content visionaries.

My generation may not have grown up with any LGBTQ role models in the media, but with the support glaadgrants provides content creators, my 20-year-old out lesbian niece will inherit a more inclusive and diverse world presented on our screens. Her generation doesn’t just encourage authenticity, but demands it. They expect a world in which everyone is not just equal, but embraced for exactly who they are. Our screens must reflect that reality. And given the growing insecurity and isolation some are feeling on the journey toward full acceptance as individuals and as a community, we need to nurture and support diverse LGBTQ voices now more than ever. Glaadgrants does just that.

Ray Bradford is the director of entertainment media at GLAAD.

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