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GLAAD’s Barrios Critiqued for FCC Letters

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 14, 2011
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The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has been criticized in the past for fighting public relations battles that seem strange or ill chosen.

But now there’s a new imbroglio looming over the media watchdog, which seeks to promote positive depictions of GLBTs in the press, on television, in the movies, and elsewhere. The president of the group, former Massachusetts State Sen. Jarrett Barrios, suffered questions about his leadership ability in the wake of a Jan. 4, 2010, letter to the FCC endorsing a merger between two telecommunications giants, AT&T and T-Mobile.

Barrios had written to the FCC subsequently, in a missive dated Jan. 15. 2010, to claim that the earlier letter had "been submitted under my name and title without my permission," and had gone on to claim, "The signature is not in my hand. I have never seen this letter and it is not my signature."

Barrios later offered an alternate explanation, saying that the first letter had been the result of an "administrative error" in which he and his secretary had failed to communicate effectively with one another.

"Our focus at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is promoting fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media, particularly by eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation," the Jan. 4 letter to the FCC read in part, reported The Bilerico Project on June 10.

"GLAAD has been called one of the most successful minority organizations influencing the media for inclusion -- and a large part of that is due to the accessible and instant Internet," the letter continued. "GLAAD depends on the Internet to disseminate information, rally our community and encourage action.

"To this end, GLAAD encourages the FCC to prioritize expanding broadband connectivity to every corner of this country and to every American so that we -- and other minority groups -- can continue our pursuit of inclusion and have our voices heard.

"As you continue your review of net neutrality, please remember that the Internet provides an open space and forum for all and it IS critical that we make it more accessible, not less."

Towleroad outlined the complicated story behind the letters in a June 10 article, recounting how the gay media and the mainstream media alike had taken note of the original letter to the FCC and remarking on the ambiguous nature of its message, which superficially appeared to argue for "net neutrality," but which, it seemed, was actually making a case against it.

Towleroad also noted -- as did other sources from which it drew its article -- that AT&T has provided financial support to GLAAD.

A few days before the Towleroad article, on June 4, Queerty posted an article explaining, in brief, what "net neutrality" is: "[T]he principle stating that all information on the web should get delivered at the same speed, not at different speeds and prices depending on who owns the service."

In other words, without net neutrality, large corporate interests could exert undue influence over what is readily accessible online -- and what is essentially relegated to hard-to-reach status.

Towleroad referred to accusations that came to light on Michelangelo Signorile’s radio show. A former member of GLAAD’s board, Laurie Perper, reportedly made statements to the effect that Barrios, already embattled by discontent over his stewardship of GLAAD, had attempted to deflect additional criticism from himself in the wake of the original letter to the FCC by asserting that a secretary had written it using GLAAD letterhead, and then put Barrios’ name to the letter, including his signature.

Perper then suggested that GLAAD had become so badly tarnished that its best course would be to cease operations.

Barrios declined to appear on Signorile’s program to rebut Perper’s comments unless he could bring along GLAAD board member Gary Bitner, "who happens to be a PR guy specializing in crisis management," Towleroad said.

A subsequent explanation from GLAAD portrayed the incident as a miscommunication in which Barrios unwittingly authorized the secretary in question to send the letter, which contained "verbatim" language provided by AT&T.

"GLAAD does not endorse AT&T’s position" on net neutrality, Rich Ferraro, the media watchdog’s communications director, eventually stated. "GLAAD believes that equal, fair and universal access to the Internet is vital to our community and to our national dialogue. While GLAAD does not take a position on particular legislation or regulations, we continue to believe in the importance of adhering to these values."

Barrios offered the explanation that he had not attempted to mislead anyone about the Jan. 4 letter, but had, rather, simply not understood how it came to be written and sent under his name until after he had sent the Jan. 15 letter to the FCC.

"At the time, I had never seen the letter that was filed, and did not recognize the signature," Barrios said. "We have since updated our internal approval process to ensure this does not happen again. Further, GLAAD does not currently take a position on particular legislation or regulations."

Bilerico briefly profiled the secretary in question.

"Barrios’ special assistant, Jeanne Christiano, is a longtime staffer for the embattled leader," the article said. "When he served in the Massachusetts state senate, she was his director of budget & district relations. When Barrios became the president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, Christiano joined him at the new office. When Barrios accepted the position with GLAAD in New York, Christiano relocated with him to continue serving as his special assistant."

The mix-up has only intensified questions about Barrios’ capacity to lead the GBT advocacy organization effectively.

"In actuality, he was trying to cover up for a longtime friend and advisor’s mistake," the Bilerico article suggested. "Barrios seems more worried about protecting his friend’s reputation than his organization’s.

"GLAAD announced support for AT&T’s merger plans after being tricked into sending a letter to the FCC that actually opposed what the org calls ’an important goal’ to achieving success in LGBT rights," the Bilerico article added.

Moreover, questions linger about just why GLAAD became involved in the issue of net neutrality in the first place. And GLAAD is not the only organization receiving scrutiny over the issue. The Raw Story reported in a June 10 article that several other "liberal" groups have also found themselves facing criticism for endorsing the merger.

"The NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Education Association (NEA) all say that public statements endorsing the deal have nothing to do with big donations provided by AT&T," the Raw Story article said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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