This month, 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 staff members and volunteers.
Below, former GLAAD Director of Entertainment Media, Damon Romine, recalls how he helped create GLAAD's national PSA series, "Be an Ally."
By Damon Romine, former GLAAD Entertainment Media Director
Sometimes, a simple opportunity presents itself that spawns a movement no one ever could have imagined. Such as Dan Savage’s incredible “It Gets Better” video project. Nearly five years ago, while I was GLAAD’s Entertainment Media Director, we found ourselves in a similar situation.
ABC’s General Hospital brought GLAAD in to consult on a story arc where one of its teen characters was gay-bashed. Soap operas have always been great about ending impactful topical episodes with a public service announcement (PSA) for viewers to find out more information. Following our work in helping shape the storyline, we were offered such a PSA by ABC.
Great exposure for GLAAD, right? I personally grappled, however, with the fact that a PSA would send viewers to GLAAD.org to learn about our groundbreaking work as a media watchdog group, which helped shape news and entertainment for the past two decades — nothing to do with the show’s storyline on anti-gay violence or how soap viewers could support LGBT people in their own lives.
In the lightning-fast turnaround of daytime TV, we had to make a quick decision: How do we capture this great opportunity for GLAAD while providing a valuable service to the public? On top of that, with such a large viewership, how does one message possibly serve such a disparate audience?
Here is what was ultimately delivered by the young actors on General Hospital to millions of viewers:
Every day, people young and old face hatred, discrimination and even violence because they’re gay. Prejudice and discrimination of any kind is wrong. Be an ally and a friend. To find out how, visit GLAAD.org.
When visitors came to the website in early 2006, they found a splashy promo with familiar faces from General Hospital directing them to our newly, and at the time quickly, created “Be an Ally & a Friend” resource, an aggregate of information that would lead the user to other organizations and resources, covering a broad spectrum from being a supportive parent, a straight spouse, a child of a gay parent, transgender issues, anti-gay violence, etc.
The soap’s storyline and the supportive PSA would go on to be featured on CNN. Just five years ago, it was news for network television to be airing LGBT-supportive PSAs. Traffic to our new online resource spiked, great for GLAAD, but more importantly, people were being directed to our appropriate sister organizations, to specifically address their various concerns.
The “Be an Ally” model was one that proved to have legs. Network television could easily get behind a message of acceptance, one that denounced intolerance, with cast members of As the World Turns, All My Children (Susan Lucci!), and the teen show South of Nowhere taping their own “Be an Ally” spots.
With that momentum, in 2007, GLAAD recorded PSAs from two dozen entertainers — LGBT and many straight allies — featuring messages about bullying and the importance of treating your gay friends or family members with dignity and respect. In 2008, another three dozen personalities joined the “Be an Ally & a Friend” ranks.
An overwhelming library of PSAs were created (edited by our friends at Red Thread), that were strategically (and successfully) pitched to the networks and local affiliates based on who appeared in each of them.
Messages from cast members of Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty and Brothers & Sisters, for example, appeared on ABC affiliates. A message from Battlestar Gallactica’s Jamie Bamber aired on SCI FI. Spanish-language messages from Grey’s Sara Ramirez and Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara aired on Spanish-language networks. Marlee Matlin recorded a message in American Sign Language that aired during Deaf Awareness Month. Candis Cayne’s aired on Transgender Remembrance Day. And a message from Ellen DeGeneres was evergreen and could air everywhere.
Thanks to support from the broadcast networks, and cable networks like Lifetime, Fox Reality, GSN, SCI FI, Sundance, IFC, TeenNICK, and the Comcast cable system, hundreds of thousands of dollars in valuable airtime was donated and millions of people were reached with important messages of support. And added value was created for each high-profile PSA with news coverage from Access Hollywood to USA Today to TV Guide and everywhere in between.
Of course, in late 2008, attention and resources moved to fighting Prop. 8, and I moved on from GLAAD shortly thereafter, but I am proud and fortunate to have been at the right place at the right time, and to have helped shepherd a 15-second opportunity on General Hospital into what became a groundbreaking “Be an Ally” movement — and the largest national pro-equality television campaign of its kind.
The “Be an Ally & a Friend” campaign truly showed the power of GLAAD to be able to harness the media in a way that reached the public with an impactful message —one that was beneficial to all of the organizations that serve the LGBT community.
Damon Romine was GLAAD Entertainment Media Director from 2005-2009. He is currently Screen Actors Guild Director, Communications.