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What Public Figures Should Learn From the Kevin Hart Oscars Debacle (Guest Column)

When social media erupted over Kevin Hart’s anti-gay tweets from years ago, many in the media and the entertainment industry believed he would immediately apologize, LGBTQ people would critique but ultimately accept his mea culpa, and the comedian would go on to host the Academy Awards. If offenders make a commitment to do better, their fans can benefit from witnessing a teachable moment.

These days, LGBTQ, black, Jewish and other minority communities enlist Twitter and other social platforms to hold the most prominent and beloved personalities accountable. But mere apologies did not lead to positive resolutions for Megyn Kelly, James Gunn, Jeffrey Lord, Roseanne Barr — and the list goes on.

Repeated debates over which apologies are acceptable and what penalty organizations should exact against a media personality are important, but they don’t solve the culture war we’re living through. Now LGBTQ and marginalized voices need to harness their power and be proactive. We cannot just look back at what was said or done; we need to look forward and take action. LGBTQ acceptance is diminishing, and we need all allies to be on the front lines with us.

GLAAD and The Harris Poll are partners on annual research to measure LGBTQ acceptance, and the percentage has grown every year. But in 2018 it rolled back for the first time in the poll’s four-year history.

Instead of building crisis communications plans for when and if an old tweet is found or interviews surface that include disparaging remarks, publicists and managers should take the initiative and get talent who are true LGBTQ allies out there in genuine and evergreen ways. Years ago LGBTQ industry leaders had to face the daunting task of coming out. Now our allies have the same imperative — to come out and tell the world how they’ve evolved. Let’s create an industry where instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” we say, “I’m here. I’m with you. And this is how I’m going to help.”

In this modern-day game of David versus Goliath, the publicist-penned apologies and PR tactics of yesteryear are no match for the power and magnitude of voices that were once marginalized. A positive relationship with a community cannot be manufactured by a clever press statement. If the revelation that a celebrity supports LGBTQ people comes in the heat of a PR headache, chances are that it will be too late to matter. Real acceptance calls for real heart.

LGBTQ people welcome unexpected allies — and can look beyond a day when they may have not been on our side. Just a few years ago, most of America did not support marriage equality, and anti-LGBTQ jokes appeared in every sophomoric comedy that hit theaters. When it comes to accepting LGBTQ people, discovering that allies have “evolved” is the norm. We open our arms because when media personalities open up about their evolution toward acceptance, it trickles down to classrooms, sports and the culture in general. Today, we need more than a trickle; we need a waterfall, because the fast pace of LGBTQ acceptance has ended.

As the world slammed Hart for old tweets and statements last week, GLAAD was flooded with news stories that created timely reminders for why allies in the public eye need to be outspoken: A University of Texas student was forced to look for new housing after she was told her girlfriend wasn’t welcome in her dorm; the trans community slammed a Golden Globe foreign language nomination and a potential Oscar nom for the Netflix film “Girl,” which ends with a transgender woman mutilating her body; a man in New York City fractured a woman’s spine after yelling anti-gay slurs at her and her girlfriend; and a judge unsealed grand jury transcripts that described unspeakable acts of violence that a 10-year-old suffered at the hands of his own parents after he came out. Americans and LGBTQ youth can also no longer look to the White House to be a moral authority or for inclusion. The president was silent during LGBTQ Pride Month, and anti-LGBTQ organizations now have seats in the Oval Office.

Silence and empty apologies are no longer an option. Hollywood can and should set a new standard for the rest of America.

Sarah Kate Ellis is celebrating her five-year anniversary as the president and CEO of GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization.

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