Richard Ferraro works as Director of Public Relations for GLAAD, an LGBT nonprofit that harnesses the power of celebrities in many of its public service announcements, events and award shows. We spoke with Richard about the importance of celebrities to GLAAD’s work, and why they’re important to your work, too.

What is GLAAD’s mission?

GLAAD amplifies the voice of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively.  By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.

How important are celebrities to GLAAD’s spreading awareness about its cause?

Celebrities who support equality for gay and transgender people are powerful allies that help build support for gay and transgender people among straight audiences. For instance, GLAAD released the “Be an Ally and A Friend” public services announcement campaign which included over 30 celebrities – from Sally Field to Ellen DeGeneres to Sofia Vergara to Kevin Bacon, all stressing why Americans should “be an ally” to gay and transgender neighbors. Because of the celebrity involvement, television networks were more apt to air the PSA, more people watched and looked for it online and top-tier media outlets discussed the campaign.

How important is having celebrities attend the GLAAD Media Awards for ticket sales?

The GLAAD Media Awards complement and fund GLAAD’s other programs – programs that amplify the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. Ticket buyers support GLAAD’s mission or have followed the nominated television programs, movies or news programming.

Celebrities in attendance build interest from gay and transgender community members but their presence also increases the visibility of the GLAAD Media Awards. Photos and news articles run in every major national newspaper and entertainment news show which help spread awareness of the Awards. This builds interest among future ticket buyers.

What are some tips for getting celebrities to attend an event?

For GLAAD, we stress the importance and mission behind the Awards and our organization. Many celebrities know the power of the media in shaping perceptions and cultural attitudes and align themselves with GLAAD’s mission to advocate for images of gay and transgender people that grow acceptance and understanding of the community. The GLAAD Media Awards are presented as a platform to speak to the gay and transgender community and discuss their support.

How do you handle the fact that some celebrities are genuinely interested in your cause and others may just want the publicity?

Before approaching a celebrity to attend an event or after a publicist submits a celebrity for consideration, our team researches to ensure that the individual has voiced commitment to LGBT equality. GLAAD does not invite celebrities whose history or public statements work against our community.

What are some of the first celebrities that GLAAD became involved with in the very beginning?

Phil Donahue was part of the first GLAAD Media Awards in 1990 where he was honored with an Excellence in Media Award. Phil was one of the first media professionals to include fair and accurate stories about LGBT people through his talk show.

Roseanne Barr was also an early supporter of GLAAD in the early 1990s after her television sitcom included a same-sex relationship.

How does GLAAD use celebrities to increase donations?

By hosting the GLAAD Media Awards and including celebrities, it helps spread awareness for the growing support of LGBT people and the events are also our biggest fundraisers of the year.

What is your response to people who say GLAAD only has fun celebrity parties – i.e. they don’t understand that the parties and celebrities help bring people in, get attention and raise money.

The Awards serve as a platform for celebrities and notables to speak out in support of LGBT people. The red carpet often attracts over 100 media outlets to interview celebrities. The red carpet questions go beyond “what are you wearing” to ask about a celebrity’s support for gay and transgender people.

Think of how powerful hearing a favorite celebrity speak about how they love and support their LGBT friends is to LGBT youth across the country who see coverage of the Awards in local news.

The high visibility of the awards enhances GLAAD’s – and the movement for LGBT equality – ability to garner understanding and support among media professionals and those in the industry

The Media Awards are the carrot to the 365 days of behind-the-scenes advocacy and anti-defamation work. They set a ‘fairness benchmark’ for the news and entertainment industry to go beyond stock stereotypes and develop gay and transgender stories that more fully reflect the challenges gay and transgender people face and the aspirations we hold for ourselves and our families.

– To learn more about GLAAD, visit GLAAD.org or follow them on Facebook.

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