Jarrett Barrios is the President and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). We was previously the President of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, and was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and state Senate. He is the founder of three nonprofit organizations: Oiste, a Massachusetts Latino political organization; Acceso, a humanitarian organization that provides outreach to Cuba; and The Commonwealth Seminar, which seeks to diversify the Massachusetts state legislature.
Question: Are Americans more open minded than they used to be about LGBT equality?
Jarrett Barrios: As people understand that inequality, they’re fair-minded. Americans are fair-minded. And they come to understand who we are much more completely and are then open to supporting, not just legislative endeavors for equality, but cultural frames, which we cast how we are understood. I think about separate from coming out, the other ways that we win support. And I have to tell you, there are, particularly in 2010, the media. And by that I mean, news, and entertainment is the most, after coming out directly to people, the most important, the most powerful way to help people understand who we are and therefore for gay folks; gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered people to achieve our equality. And as impatient as I might be, there’s an importance to that impatience. We must be impatient to ask America to treat us equally. It’s important to understand that we aren’t going to, in our impatience win that by yelling at a few Congressmen. The way to win our impatience – our equality and use our impatience to our advantage by taking it to the streets, taking it to the people we work with, talking to the people in our worlds. And by supporting the media that tells those stories fully and fairly.
That, if it’s a news story about gays in the military, the stories about gay men and women, who are serving with honor, but a being hounded out of the military, which is wrong. And people understand that.
The stories of couples that simply need to take care of one another. What more traditional value can there be in America? What more conservative value can there be than the institution of marriage and what it entails. Taking care of others and having the basic rights to take care of one another to protect, not just your family, but the institution that we call America, to allow ourselves to reproduce that for the next generation. That’s marriage.
And that’s something that I think Americans, when they understand it, not through the lens of somebody’s sort of radical conservative agenda to raise money off of, you know, poor old ladies in Iowa. Right? That they’re sending the mailers out where they characterize gay folks as the devil. But when the see the reality of our lives, you know, we have kids. We get older, need to take care of – we have pensions that we need to pass on. There’s no benefit to anybody else. There’s no damage to anybody else’s marriage by giving the benefits, the responsibilities of marriage to our families. And we need those benefits to take care of each other.
When people understand that through stories that are told responsibly through the media, news stories, or on television. The television show, “Brothers and Sisters,” where they were hoping to get married and then Prop 8 passes and that couldn’t happen; these are responsible ways of communicating important values and in many ways far more persuasive. Far more impactful than any amount of lobbying that we’re going to do on Capital Hill to win our equality.
Shows like “Glee” and “Modern Family,” which give realistic, sometimes all too realistic portrayals of gay families and gay people are very, very important to helping America understand, particularly those Americans who don’t think they know anybody who’s gay. Or who know somebody who’s gay, but those gay friends and family members have never bothered to sit them down and tell them that they’re second class and they deserve to be treated fairly. It’s amazing to me how many of my gay brothers and sisters, my bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters don’t tell their friends and family why they deserve equality.
Recorded June 17, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman