GLAAD Must Start Choosing its Battles Carefully

The political website published an article August 30 about gay lifestyles by Amanda M. Fairbanks, apparently a heterosexual woman.  Titled “Sex For Tuition: Gay Male College Students Using ‘Sugar Daddies’ To Pay Off Loan Debt,” the article featured a photo of a handsome Daddy and an equally attractive twink cuddling in bed.  According to Fairbanks, “an increasing number of gay male students have . . . taken to the web in the past several years searching for wealthy benefactors.  While young gay men exchanging sex for money certainly predated the financial collapse, recent events have pushed some students to consider engaging in risky behavior that in more robust economic times might have been unthinkable, according to several owners of websites that broker such hook?ups.  The rise in the number of straight and gay college students moonlighting as ‘sugar babies’ occurs at a time when the life plan of many 20?somethings have taken a brutal detour.”

As a frequent visitor to the Huffington Post, I read Fairbanks’ article the day it was posted and thought nothing of it.  This was not the case with the folks at GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which issued a “Call to Action: Tell Huffington Post To Stop Masquerading Anti?Gay Stereotypes As Journalism.”

“Fairbanks and her interview subjects play into several alarming and dangerous stereotypes about the LGBT community ? completely unchallenged,” read the GLAAD press release.

“This level of carelessness is surprising, given the Huffington Post’s track record of commendable coverage of LGBT issues,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD.

“It feeds into very outdated stereotypes, ignores the broad range of people from our community with many healthy and loving families and uses a few individuals to make sweeping and degrading generalizations about the gay community.  It’s shoddy journalism.”

GLAAD urged LGBT community members to “take action and let the Huffington Post know that they should not stand behind this careless and derogatory approach to journalism.”

What did Fairbanks write that was so horrible?  Fairbanks interviewed Brandon Wade, founder of the hook?up website, who told her that “the gay community were really the first to embrace the sugar lifestyle, even more so than the straight community.”  Fairbanks herself added that, “unlike in the straight world, many say they find working as an escort on the gay scene to be an accepted, even applauded practice.  And unlike the young women engaged in similar behavior who reported feeling great shame and remorse, the men generally seemed less traumatized by their decision.  In fact, they often feel emboldened by the money they were able to earn, rather than shamed by the stigma.”  She makes reference to Christian Grov, assistant professor of public health at Brooklyn College, who “finds the gay culture more accepting of one?night stands and casual relationships.”

So what’s wrong with that?  Escorts, one?night stands and casual relationships are more acceptable in the LGBT community (or at least the male part) than in the hetero?sexual mainstream.  So are public nudity, pornography and open relationships.  By denouncing Fairbanks’ article, GLAAD seems to presume that our community shares in the heterosexual mainstream’s prejudice against any form of “sex” that is not justified by “love.”  We might want the world to think that the LGBT community consists mostly of happy, monogamous couples, with or without children.  But wanting something does not mean that it actually exists.  We should accept and celebrate our LGBT community in all its diversity, not try to pigeonhole it into a socially?acceptable “lifestyle.”

This does not justify Fairbanks’ use of generalizations, as when she quotes “sugar baby” Jake’s opinion that, “in the gay scene, all you really have is your age or your money.”

This has not been a good year for GLAAD.  Earlier this year, it sent a letter to the FCC endorsing a proposed merger between communications giants AT&T and T?Mobile.  This was seen by many to be a conflict of interest, since GLAAD board member Troup Coronado was also a lobbyist for AT&T.  This led to the resignation of GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios and eight GLAAD board members (including Coronado) before GLAAD withdrew support for the merger and took a stand in favor of net neutrality.  But GLAAD is not over.  It has since recovered enough to lead the charge against homophobic rapper Tyler the Creator after he won Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards.  GLAAD also called out comedian Chelsea Handler when she mocked transgender activist Chaz Bono on Dancing With The Stars.  There is still a place for GLAAD in the LGBT community, but it must choose its battles carefully.   For all its faults, Huffington Post is our friend.  We already have too many enemies.

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