One might question the usefulness of a gay-rights organization that demands so little of elected officials. And in the case of GLAAD, such doubts would be correct. The best thing the organization could do is dissolve -- not because it is actively harmful, but rather because it is a victim of its own success.
Among the alphabet soup of gay-rights organizations, GLAAD is the one that has unquestionably outlived its once-noble purpose (the Human Rights Campaign is a frequent target of criticism -- that it is ineffective, too closely aligned with the Democratic Party, mainly concerned with throwing black tie fundraisers, etc. -- but as the premier lobbying group for LBGT causes in Washington, the group still serves an important purpose.) Founded in 1985 as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation -- the group officially dropped this title in March, in recognition of its work on behalf of bisexual and transgender people, though it kept the acronym -- a major part of GLAAD's mission is to combat negative portrayals of gays in the media.* There was certainly a case for such an organization some 25 years ago, when popular portrayals of gays -- men in particular -- depicted them as decadent, depraved, and disease-ridden. Even ostensibly "progressive" individuals and institutions took part in gay-bashing.
For instance, among its many other absurdities, Oliver Stone's conspiratorial 1991 film JFK laid responsibility for the assassination of the 35th president at the feet of a sadomasochistic gay-sex ring. And though it is now an undoubtedly gay-friendly (if not obsessed) newspaper, the New York Times was not always so sympathetic. "The NYT was preposterously slow to cover AIDS during [Editor A.M.] Rosenthal's tenure, and it was widely believed that was because of Rosenthal's homophobia," wrote Randy Shilts in And the Band Played On, his magisterial chronicle of the AIDS crisis. According to a brief history of the organization, GLAAD was created at a time when, "representations of lesbians and gay men tended to fall into one of two categories: defamatory or non-existent."
What a difference 25 years makes. Not only are media representations of gays plentiful, they are almost overwhelmingly positive, which is perhaps why GLAAD curiously removed the above sentence from its website. The entertainment industry, for many years a "celluloid closet" (in the words of the late gay film historian Vito Russo), is exuberantly pro-gay. Being gay isn't just OK these days, it's positively cool. From Broadway to Hollywood, the message is one of uncompromising acceptance of gay people. The list of celebrities and television shows affirming a gay-positive message is endless, from Lady Gaga and her mantra of "Born This Way" to hit television shows like Modern Family and Glee. Meanwhile, popular television journalists like CNN's Anderson Cooper and NBC News' Pete Williams face no barriers for being openly gay, a far cry from what it was like to work in the news industry just half a generation ago. The media's reaction to NBA player Jason Collins' coming out on the cover of Sports Illustrated has been almost exclusively supportive; just witness the hostility heaped upon Howie Kurtz, who was fired by The Daily Beast for a blog post in which he erroneously stated that Collins "didn't come clean" over his previous engagement to a woman. As far as the mainstream media, movies, television, and popular music -- the monitoring of which is GLAAD's raison d'etre -- goes, homosexuality has gone from the love that dare not speak its name to the love that won't stop talking.