When GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis takes the Emmys stage Jan. 15 to accept the Television Academy’s Governors Award on behalf of the advocacy organization, she will have a concise message: There is plenty of progress to celebrate and plenty more to be done.
The award, which honors a person or organization that has made a profound and long-lasting contribution to television, puts GLAAD in good company with previous recipients, including the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Debbie Allen and Tyler Perry and his Perry Foundation.
“For us at GLAAD, this is such a huge honor and a validation of our nearly 40 years of work.” Ellis tells Variety.
In its annual “Where We Are On TV” report, which has tracked LGBTQ representation for 25 years, GLAAD identified 596 LGBTQ characters (regular and recurring) across all platforms on TV in 2022-2023. “In terms of LGB representation, this honor comes at a great time,” Ellis says.
But notice she left off a few letters. Of those characters, only 32 (5.4%) were trans.
“We have seen those watershed moments (for lesbian, gay and bisexual representation), whether it was Ellen DeGeneres coming out or ‘Will & Grace,’” Ellis says. “What we don’t have yet is a watershed moment for the trans community. I see this opportunity as a chance to speak to the academy and all the creators in the room to say that we need that moment. We need you to create and write about trans people because there were over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed this past year and most are against trans people and our trans youth.”
Ellis notes 30% of Americans personally know someone who identifies as trans, leaving 70% to be educated through the media they consume.
“But what’s taking up that space in the media right now are political pundits who are talking about trans people with misinformation and in negative ways,” Ellis says. “We need Hollywood to be the antidote to that.”
In 2018, Ellis launched the GLAAD Media Institute, which works with every level of Hollywood production to ensure accurate LGBTQ representation is engrained from the start of any project. At any given moment, Ellis says the institute is embedded with 12 productions, most of which seek out
One recent example was “Grey’s Anatomy,” which reached out to GLAAD when it planned to introduce Casey Parker, a trans resident, in Season 14. From preliminary conversations through the casting of actor Alex Blue Davis, GLAAD counseled the production on how to make the historic character as impactful as possible.
Among GLAAD’s current initiatives are the Black Queer Creative Summit, which aims to foster a pipeline for Black, queer creators to find production homes for their stories across media. In 2024, GLAAD will also release its first report on LGBTQ inclusion in video games, its second annual look at representation in advertising and begin to wrap its arms around the issue of AI.
Ellis, who celebrates 10 years as GLAAD president in 2024, says she is frequently asked when she will be happy with the level of LGBTQ representation in media. The activist in her wants to shout, “Never!” But she does have a benchmark in mind.
“I will really be happy when we are in every story because we are in every family, we are in every workplace,” Ellis says. “I don’t mean that we need to be the center of every story, but I don’t know a family in America, or a workplace or a restaurant, or really anywhere in America, where there
aren’t LGBTQ people.”