For more information about GLAAD’s 25th Anniversary, click here! ------------------------------------------------------------------- By Cathy Renna, former National News Media Director at GLAAD It is hard to believe that GLAAD is a quarter century old. I spent nearly 14 years as part of the organization and have been thinking about the changes GLAAD has been responsible for in making our community visible, especially since our community is not often in the history books that LGBTQ kids are reading in school. I also am very mindful of how GLAAD was the place I “grew up,” as a person and as and activist. As I think back on my personal history with GLAAD, a few images stick out in my mind. Going back to 1990 (not really that long ago, right?) I was volunteering with the then Washington, DC chapter of GLAAD. We were lucky to have an office space, phone, faxes, and a handful of people willing to do the work. Back then, the Washington Post wasn’t exactly jumping at our phone calls and our activism was nearly all reactive, in your face and uphill. We sold lemonade at Pride, collected donations a dollar at a time in front of the local gay bookstore and never would have dreamed GLAAD would become a national, multi-million dollar organization. But here we are.
Of all the work I did while at GLAAD, it was aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard that continues to stay with me in spirit and still deeply informs my actions every day as an activist, a lesbian and a parent. Despite the loss of this young man at such an early age, he has been a teacher to us all and his legacy is much larger than anyone could have imagined. We all have moments that are indelibly etched into our memory. The days in early October 1998 hold many of those for me. Shortly after Matthew’s body was discovered and the media began reporting it as a possible hate crime, I found myself on the phone with Jim Osborn, the then-President of the LGBTQ group on campus at the University of Wyoming. He was surrounded by a growing media circus and I asked Jim a simple question: what can GLAAD do for you? His answer was also simple: “get on an f-ing plane.” My next call was to then-Executive Director Joan Garry, asking her approval to spend what was at the time a LOT of money for me to go to Laramie. Hours later I was on a plane. It is impossible to document all the work GLAAD did related to Matt’s murder, but some of the most important pieces still resonate today. Whether is was working with the students to tell their stories and talk to the media in a safe and comfortable way, being a key resource to journalists and putting Matt’s death in context, working with local communities around the country to help them get media coverage of how hates crimes have affected their communities, being an integral part of the Laramie Project’s success and working with Matthew’s amazing family, who have continued his legacy through the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation are just some. I’ll end with two brief stories that exemplify why we see Matt’s murder continue to resonate in the media and in our community. The first time I met Judy Shepard was in New York, the day of the 1999 GLAAD awards. I was nervous but after 2 minutes realized I was in the presence of one of the most genuine and loving people I would ever meet. Over lunch, we talked a lot about why Matt’s murder got so much attention and others did not, a topic I speak about to this day, but it was the moment when she said “I want to do something to make a difference while I have this small window of opportunity” that made me pause. In my mind I was thinking “Small window? How about Bay window,” but in that moment I realized she was has no idea the journey she was about to go on. Later that evening, when she took to the stage to accept an award for the Casper Star-Tribune, over a thousand people rose to their feet in unison and in an instant I think she realized what I meant when I said that the window was not small, not if she didn’t want it to be. Last year, I was proud to stand in the White House as President Obama thanked Judy, Dennis and Logan for their sacrifice and on-going work.
Former GLAAD National News Media Director Cathy Renna speaks at a press conference the morning of Matt's death