Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is the chief operating officer and general counsel of SAG-AFTRA. He and John Crabtree-Ireland were one of the first couples to tie the knot, in February 2004, when San Francisco began allowing same-sex couples to marry.
What have been your experiences with how industry decision-makers deal with gay individuals or subject matter?
It really depends on the individual decision-maker. In general, and on a policy level, the industry’s generally in the right place. But the translation of that philosophy and theory into practice leaves a lot to be desired. In my experience, direct anti-gay confrontation or explicit discrimination is rare. But more subtle forms of discrimination and disrespect are common, and sadly, people standing up to it and calling it out is the exception and not the rule.
Has Hollywood been influential in changing public attitudes?
There’s just no question that it has been enormously influential in at least one specific way: helping LGBT members of the public feel more comfortable to come out and become advocates in their own communities. Whether it’s Ellen or Elton or Alexis or Laverne or Caitlyn, their outness has empowered the community to take on some tough conversations in unwelcome places, and that’s why the movement for equality has been able to make such advances so quickly. It’s like Harvey Milk declared way back in 1978, “you must come out.” He said it was the way to break down lies and distortions, and he was right. When it comes to detailed policy issues, the entertainment industry has a role to play, and has been helpful in some ways. But the real impact is on a broader and less-specific level.
What’s the most positive thing the industry can do: fund-raisers, public awareness, one-on-one discussions?
All of the above and more. The “It Gets Better” project is a wonderful example of how the industry can pull together to make a difference in individual lives, and how people in all parts of the industry, at all levels of success and experience, can work together to create change. We’re a creative industry, and the greatest gift we can bring to this effort is that unique creativity.
And is this a top priority?
It’s important, but it’s not the only priority. We have a lot of work to do on the equality front. Equal employment opportunity in general remains an only partially fulfilled commitment. And, of course, the business has to remain economically vital in order to advance these priorities, and others. All these priorities can co-exist and can succeed together, and in fact feed into each other.
What are SAG-AFTRA’s current medical benefits for same-sex married couples and/or domestic partners?
SAG-AFTRA has two sets of benefit plans, the AFTRA Health Fund and the SAG-Producers Health Plan. The plans differ, but both are committed to providing full equality of benefits to same-sex spouses.
How will medical coverage for domestic partners be affected by the Supreme Court ruling? Will hospital visitation rights be covered?
Each plan or fund makes its own determination of how to handle domestic partner coverage. Generally, plans have left such coverage in place in states that do not recognize marriage equality, and have phased it out or modified it in states that do (with time for affected partners to consider their options). That process would likely continue when we have national recognition of marriage equality. Hospital visitation rights are defined by federal and state law, and are not affected by the health plans. However, in 2010, the President by executive order mandated that all hospitals receiving medicare or Medicaid funding must allow hospital visitation. Nationwide marriage equality would more firmly establish those rights for married same-sex couples, leaving in place access rights for domestic partners based on the executive order or state law.
Ultimately, people in Hollywood will want to know: What does this mean for me?
You’re right — regardless of what happens at the U.S. Supreme Court in these cases, fewer than half the states in the nation have protections against discrimination against LGBT people in employment and housing. And there’s no federal protection. SAG-AFTRA’s collective bargaining agreements contain those protections, and we will continue our longstanding advocacy for the enactment of laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Assuming the Supreme Court legalizes marriage equality, there will be no impact on negotiations or dues. It means there will finally be full equality in the benefits that can be provided by our health, pension and retirement funds, and another arrow in our quiver to be used in making the case for equal treatment of all our members. It means that when our members think about their friends in the business and their fellow members working next to them, they can know their families will be