GLAAD at 25: Former Staff Member Remembers Helping Persuade The New York Times to Open its Wedding Pages

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 former staff members, Glennda Testone, recalls how she and her colleagues persuadedThe New York Times to open its wedding pages to same-sex couples back in 2002, which led to GLAAD’s year’s long successful Announcing Equality Campaign. Over 70 percent of all daily newspapers in the United States now accept wedding and/or commitment ceremony announcements for same-sex couples. Testone also discusses the impact of GLAAD’s culture changing work and how the organization affected her life. Testone worked for GLAAD from 2000 to 2006 beginning as the Northeast Media Manager, then moved to the Director of  Regional Media position and eventually earned a promotion to the Senior Director of Media Programs role. After leaving GLAAD she went on to become Vice-President of the Women’s Media Center for the next three years.  In 2009 she was named Executive Director of the The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center where she continues to serve today. Q & A with Glennda Testone, Former Senior Director of Media Programs at GLAAD Can you tell us some of your recollections about the day you sat down with The New York Times and helped convince editors to open their wedding pages to same-sex couples?
I remember it was Joan Garry (Former GLAAD Executive Director) and Jon Sonego (Former GLAAD Communications Director) and me (Director of Regional Media at the time).  And I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a huge deal.” I recalled journalism school at Syracuse University and thought, “How many of my professors and my classmates would love to be in this position, right now… sitting down with the top editors at The New York Times?” And walking in I felt like, we had an open and shut case.  I knew it was going to be a stretch for them to be the first and be he standard-bearer to make this kind of change but I really believed we could convince them to do it.  I just felt like our arguments were so strong and undeniable— that gay and lesbian citizens deserved to be treated equally by their newspaper. It was exciting and I was also nervous.”
What arguments did you make to persuade the editors?
The main arguments we talked about was the fact that gay and lesbian people were having weddings and that it was not up to The New York Times to make a decision about whose wedding was more or less valid. Coverage of weddings was something that happened in the style section and the reality was that gay and lesbian people were having weddings and we were really making the distinction between those ceremonies and the marriage license that people get at City Hall, which is not something the paper ever went and checked for any couple.  The point I made was they were not printing coverage of those marriage licenses. They were printing coverage of peoples’ weddings. Gay and lesbian people in the tri-state area and in New York City were having those weddings and to not cover them was making a judgment; deeming some people’s celebrations less valid than others when in fact the ceremonies were all very much the same and deserving of equal recognition.
What did that milestone event tell you about GLAAD’s influence?
This moment to me really showed the strength, power and strategy of GLAAD because this was not the kind of thing that another organization was going to take on and put in the kind of time, resources and research into.  But it was the kind of thing that GLAAD was really invested in because we knew if we could get this victory we could influence newspapers all across the country.  If The New York Times was doing it other papers would think it would be ok to do it too. And it was such a proud moment to be able to make that change and then leverage it with newspapers all over the country.  This was an example of GLAAD at its finest, going in there and making a difference that could educate people all across the country and influence them. To me that’s the way you make change.  You get into people’s homes and into their hearts and you talk to them at the kitchen table. And that’s what, for many people, the newspaper does. It’s what they read in the morning at the kitchen table and it’s where they learn what’s going on in the community, and they should be able to learn about their gay and lesbian neighbors, the same-sex couples, that are having weddings.
What impact did GLAAD have on you personally and professionally?
GLAAD has had the most profound impact on me personally and professionally.  I will take the lessons that I learned at GLAAD with me for the rest of my life. The people I met there are some of the smartest, most dedicated, most passionate people in our movement and I feel really proud that I got my start at GLAAD. And I will be forever grateful for the work that I was able to do there on behalf of our community.
You spent six years at GLAAD.  Do you have a favorite memory?
The New York Times victory would be right up there. When I got the word I can remember I was actually taking a vacation.  I got a call that The New York Times had made their decision and “they’re going to print same-sex wedding announcements and they’re going to announce it tomorrow.”  And I thought, “Oh my God, this is amazing. This is really a huge, huge win.”  That’s definitely one of the best memories. I also loved the GLAAD retreats because it was a chance for all of us to reconnect with why we do the work we do and then to go out and be reenergized to do it even better.  And I will always remember the people at GLAAD.  Some of the people I met at GLAAD I feel, will be people that I will stay connected to my entire life.
Were there particular mentors that helped guide you along the way?
Definitely Joan Garry (Former GLAAD Executive Director) and Julie Anderson (Former GLAAD Senior Director of Development) were two of the biggest mentors… and then colleague mentors who totally inspired me like Sean Lund (Former GLAAD Director of Messaging) and Rashad Robinson (Current GLAAD Senior Director of Media Programs) and Cindi Creager (Current Director of National News). I’m always learning from people at GLAAD. I learned so much professionally from Joan and Julie and the way they did the work and the way they led their lives. I would also say Jeffrey Sosnick (Founding GLAAD Member, and Former Staff and Board Member), Jason Burlingame (Former Director of Special Events),  and Margaret Crisostomo (Former Associate Director of Special Events). So many of the friends and colleagues and professional role models that I have came from GLAAD. It’s a gold mine of talent. It really is.  People really care about the community and care about moving the needle. It’s just an amazing place.
GLAAD is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week.  What are your thoughts about GLAAD’s impact on equality?
I just want to say congratulations to GLAAD and a huge debt of gratitude on behalf of all of us because I think that GLAAD has brought more visibility and more productive discussion about our issues on the national stage than probably any other organization.
Any other thoughts about GLAAD you’d like to share?
I’m so excited that you are doing this. I think it’s a fantastic idea, very well deserved. 25 years is amazing and here’s to another 25.