GLAAD at 25: Founding Member Jehan F. Agrama Revisits GLAAD's Beginning

Bruce Vilanch and Jehan F. Agrama, 10th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, 2000

This week, GLAAD will celebrate 25 years of amplifying LGBT voices. As part of that celebration, GLAAD Blog will revisit some of GLAAD’s culture changing work as told by former and current GLAAD staff members and volunteers.

Below, one of GLAAD's founding members, Jehan F. Agrama, recalls GLAAD's first work in the entertainment industry to ensure fair, accurate and inclusive LGBT representation.

For more information about GLAAD's 25th Anniversary, click here!

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By Jehan F. Agrama, GLAAD Founding Member

I remember vividly those first few times Richard Jennings and I held meetings with the various TV station managers.  We had called up and said that we didn’t feel the gay community was being represented in an accurate fashion and that we’d like a meeting to offer our assistance as a resource.  If we were met with hesitation, we reminded them that the FCC regulated the stations and that they had a responsibility of serving ALL their constituents, and we didn’t want this particular constituency to get angry and start writing letters challenging their license.

In 1991, they didn’t know what to expect; but it wasn’t us. In many cases, we didn’t fit their view of “gay.”

Jehan Agrama walks alongside GLAAD at Los Angeles LGBT Pride, 1990

Richard was in a suit and tie (boring lawyer that he is) and I was in an ensemble, usually a skirt, with my long hair in a pony tail. So, first off, they were taken aback. Our jamming them with our appearance was on purpose.  We wanted them to challenge their own homophobia and be off balance so they would be more open to hearing what we had to say. It worked.  Secondly, both Richard and I came from the entertainment industry, so we knew the language, issues and concerns.  They had not necessarily been expecting to deal with reasonable, knowledgeable, professionals - we were gay activists, after all.  What we were hoping would be an in depth discussion about defamation and accuracy in the media would usually turn in to a “Homosexuality 101” course. Most of the people had not met openly gay folk (to their knowledge), and had stereotypical ideas of our community. We assured them that we felt the errors of their past coverage were due to ignorance and not maliciousness.  With these meetings, and being available to the stations as a resource, we made fast headway in the news media.

When we went into the Studios, the atmosphere was different.  These were the “creative folk” and much more open to working with “gays.” Not that there were many openly gays among them, were there? It was trickier talking to people who worked in fiction. There was no requirement for balance and accuracy. We could only talk about enriching their programming with LGBT characters and urge them to show diverse representations and not just stereotypical images.  They were creative enough to do that, right?

One such meeting took place at the request of Sid Sheinberg at Universal Studios. After presenting to and speaking with about 15 people from program development, Richard and I were waiting for the elevator.  One of the women from the meeting came up to us and said, “Thanks so much for coming. It meant a lot to me.” Our gay-dar was in full force. She must be? Right? We realized that our showing up at these companies was giving a voice to the closeted gays who worked there.  We could say things that they couldn’t.  We were their advocates and it was empowering for both us and them.

The woman at the meeting turned out to be Nina Jacobson- and YES she was and IS!  As Senior VP of Production at Universal, she later went on to become the OPENLY gay President of Walt Disney Production Group and is now producing the sequel to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Hunger Games with her own company, Color Force.  While we cannot take credit for her film making success, she probably wouldn’t deny that being gay and out in the entertainment industry had suddenly become much easier, because of GLAAD.

Jehan F. Agrama, one of the founders of GLAAD