April 13, 2010

A Thumbs-Up From The LGBT Front


By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

Your New York culture reporter recently accepted an invitation from Stephanie Blackwood, co-founder and account director of Double Platinum, to attend a kick-off reception for the GLAAD Advertising Media Program. Whoa, let's deconstruct a bit. Double Platinum is the major gay/lesbian/not-for-profit advertising agency (partly owned by Publicis), and Stephanie and her creative partner Arthur Korant have guested in the writer's advertising courses at The New School since Double Platinum opened its doors in 2001. Stephanie and Arthur are both platinum blonds--a bit of "impossibly glam," as GLAAD's media platform advocates.

GLAAD is The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a 20-year-old watchdog group that monitors advertising, news and entertainment media for anti-gay slurs, and educates offenders why and how to avoid hurtful content. Recently GLAAD absorbed the Commercial Closet Association, which handled the original ombudsman role of monitoring anti-gay slurs and images in advertising, and educating both corporations and ad agencies.


GLAAD has transitioned with societal change. Today it's largely a proactive, nonprofit trade group that organizes, judges and salutes categories of positive LGBT imagery in ad messages and other entertainment content. It also advocates for inclusion of the LGBT community in all media including advertising, and monitors for fair and accurate representation. (Its library acquired from Commercial Closet houses over 4,000 constantly updated gay/lesbian ad messages, most of which are positive and inclusive.) In its way GLAAD has become more like The One Show, Andys, and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) and is a mainstream advertising operation--except for its awareness outside the LGBT community, which is slowly building. The main agenda of this kick-off is recognizing Levi's Brand and Wells Fargo for excellence in their workplaces as well as their advertising.

And so here's your MAJ reporter (married, father of a grown son and three grown daughters, and hopelessly straight) making his way through the Absolut-stocked bar and chicken skewers in the uber-chic glassed-in Alvin Ailey Dance Studio on Manhattan's torrid West Side, shoulder-to-shoulder with New York's gay and lesbian ad crowd.

What's that like? Well, kind of like any other upscale Manhattan cocktail party with a bunch of ad types. It's dressy and casual dressy, people are tired from their 10-hour day but are game to discuss gym membership discounts, new restaurant openings from Chelsea to Harlem, and summer sublet bargains in the Hamptons. Nobody's up in arms over any new anti-gay ads (the last having been the "storm" ads about protecting the institution of marriage, which failed to stop Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire from legalizing same-sex marriage).


Indeed, hardly anyone's watching the giant screen projections of dozens and dozens of gay men and lesbians frolicking about for major marketers like models in ads have always frolicked about. Your writer is alternating conversations with Jack, a spry senior who started on Mad Ave at William Douglas MacAdams in 1956 (five years before this Mad Man) and Merryn, a tawny beauty who edits Lesbians On The Loose (LOTL) a lesbian journal of style and culture from Down Under. It's fun and the music is cranked up loud enough that most of us are in standard lip-reading mode.

GLAAD's soon-to-be-retired president, Neil Giuliano (the former mayor of Tempe Arizona) starts the evening's formal presentation by affirming the group's commitment to fair, accurate and inclusive media images "that we connect through common, human experiences." Neil tells us words and images matter and can shatter stereotypes. The room falls silent as he announces the passing of Rodger McFarlane, a leader in the gay rights movement and the first executive director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Various other GLAAD officers then cite Wells Fargo for its "I Take Pride" film, a talking-heads testimonial by the company's LGBT employees. The word that sums it best is "comprehensive," because you may get the feeling that every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered person in Minnesota has migrated to Minneapolis and gone to work for Wells Fargo. There's a certain novelty value in viewing a huge financial services institution pay tribute to what looks like the widest LGBT bench in its category.


The Levi's award cites its "phone booth" commercial, a clever revisiting of the classic breaking-the-glass-ceiling of taboo imagery. An older teen is getting dressed, and is pulling up his Levi's, and his floor is suddenly burst open by a telephone booth--a telephone booth, if you please-- breaking through and lifting to reveal another cute young man. The attraction is instant and they walk off together. Several chaps next to the writer smiled approvingly at this share-the-fantasy, but commented that the premise wouldn't work if the roles were lesbian, that "two girls would be heading for Starbucks to get acquainted." Neil Giuliano's final announcement was for the GLAAD Fall 2009 Advertising Awards, and that everyone's $25 reception ticket would be credited to their fall ticket purchase--a very smart marketing ploy. As should be evident, MAJ felt totally comfortable at the program and affirmed by GLAAD's platform that welcomes "straight allies who personally advocate for equal rights and fair treatment."

Editor's Note: Kurt's new literature course, "Queer Pioneers: The Early Lesbian Fiction of Patricia Highsmith, Ann Bannon and Marijane Meaker," debuts in April, 2010 at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Info:


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