As the head of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis believes in the power of pop culture to shape attitudes and dismantle prejudices. And she’s not afraid to use her role at the country’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization to shine a spotlight on companies or institutions when they fail to live up to that responsibility.
From pressuring the Hallmark Channel to reinstate ads with gay couples to joining with lawmakers to change laws preventing gay men from donating blood during the COVID-19 crisis, Ellis educates and cajoles — and when that fails, she shames — with the goal of creating a more inclusive world. She spoke with Variety about the progress that the LGBTQ community has made and why there’s still a lot of ground left to make up.
A lot has changed since GLAAD was formed in 1985 — gay marriage is legal and the LGBTQ community has become more widely embraced. Why do we still need GLAAD?
There has been a lot of progress, but more needs to be done. We aren’t at a place where LGBTQ people can’t be fired or denied service because of who they are or who they love. Things have gotten better, but there are so many people we still need to bring along. Right now, there’s a young adult in social isolation, who is at home, who is LGBTQ, and who is suffering and not accepted. They’re hiding who they are because they’re scared of being beaten or ostracized.
How do you feel about Pride events being canceled because of coronavirus?
You can’t cancel Pride. Pride is about how we feel about ourselves and how we see ourselves. It’s true that many physical events have been canceled, but a lot is happening virtually.
TV seems to be far ahead of movies when it comes to representation of the LGBTQ community. Why is that?
There is a huge improvement with television and streaming, because there is so much more content, and that allows for more opportunities to tell different LGBTQ stories. Another factor is that the major movie studios are focused on international distribution, and they’re scared of showing LGBTQ content because they’re worried their films will be shut out of Russia and China.
Do you think you’ll see an LGBTQ superhero soon in a major comic book movie?
Absolutely. There have been a few blink-and-you-miss-them LGBTQ characters in blockbusters, but I think you’ll see a front-and-center LGBTQ superhero in the next few years. It’s not only GLAAD that’s asking for that. These studios are hearing about it from fans. They want this to happen. We’ll know we’ve truly arrived when there are both LGBTQ supporting characters and protagonists. We’re starting to see more and more inclusion, and we’re starting to move into the center of the frame. That’s how it should be.
Pete Buttigieg made history when he became the first openly gay person to launch a major presidential campaign. Do you think there will be an LGBTQ president in your lifetime?
Yes, I do. I’m optimistic we’ll see a woman or someone from the LGBTQ community in the White House in my lifetime.