GLAAD Lowers Its Profile in Fifth Avenue Parade Controversy

In 2014, GLAAD leapt into the controversy over the continued exclusion of LGBT Irish groups from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade when it persuaded Guinness, the beer brand owned by Diageo, the liquor giant, to end its sponsorship of the Fifth Avenue parade.

“Today, Guinness sent a strong message to its customers and employees: discrimination should never be celebrated,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the chief executive of the LGBT media advocacy group, said in a March 16 statement. “As a gay mom who has fond memories of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it saddens me that I can’t give those same memories to my own kids because my family isn’t welcome.”

At GLAAD’s urging, Heineken beer also ended its sponsorship. On March 17, GLAAD sent out a fundraising appeal titled “Let’s Have a Beer” that touted the group’s work on the issue.

Media advocacy groups still presses organizers for more inclusion, but ends sponsor boycott efforts

“GLAAD has been hard at work making sure this never happens again — we helped parade sponsors like Guinness and Heineken look internally to realize that exclusion is neither a core value, nor a guiding principle for their companies, and they have rightfully pulled their support,” the appeal read. “Because of GLAAD, the lead story in mainstream media today is about how bans like these hurt LGBT families and fall out of touch with Irish and with American values.”

Last year, GLAAD worked with Irish Queers, the group that has led the boycott of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for years, to get a few New York City gay bars to stop serving Guinness. Diageo and its Ketel One and Rokk vodka brands have sponsored fundraisers for GLAAD since at least 2011. Ketel One is sponsoring the March 21 GLAAD fundraiser in Los Angeles.

What a difference a year makes. There is still no Irish LGBT group in the parade, Guinness is back as a sponsor, and GLAAD has largely gone silent.

Between 2014 and 2015, NBCUniversal, which owns and operates WNBC, the local TV station that broadcasts the parade, announced that its LGBT employee group, OUT@NBCUniversal, would march in the parade.

On February 17 of this year, Irish Queers held a press conference at City Hall with a half dozen other groups to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio — who did not march last year and appears prepared to not march again this year — and other elected officials again boycott the parade because it continues to exclude Irish LGBT groups. GLAAD, which has had a long relationship with

NBCUniversal, was nowhere in sight.

At the press conference, Emmaia Gelman, a member of Irish Queers, called the inclusion of OUT@NBCUniversal “trickery.” Rosie Mendez, an out lesbian City Council member who represents lower Manhattan, said it was done to “placate the sponsors.” Daniel Dromm, an out gay City Council member who represents part of Queens, said including the employee group missed the point.

“The issue has never been allowing a gay group in the parade,” he said. “It has been having an Irish gay group in the parade… We are demanding an inclusive parade and we are asking other elected officials not to march.”

Since 2011, NBCUniversal has sponsored GLAAD fundraisers and many NBCUniversal units, including NBC network programs, CNBC, and MSNBC, have promoted GLAAD’s annual Spirit Day by having on-air talent wear purple and discuss the event, which promotes anti-bullying efforts. In a 2013 statement, GLAAD said it had a “long standing relationship with NBCUniversal,” which is a sponsor of GLAAD’s March 21 fundraiser in Los Angeles.

Klayton Fennell, the senior vice president of Government Affairs at cable giant Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent, resigned from GLAAD’s board last Friday “to better balance my work and personal demands as my husband and I focus on adoption,” he wrote in an email to Gay City News. He joined the board in February of 2014. Comcast has also worked with GLAAD on various promotions, including Spirit Day. Cody Lassen, another GLAAD board member, worked for NBCUniversal from 2009 to 2012.

In a February 27 email, Gay City News asked GLAAD about its silence this year and the group responded with a March 2 statement saying the “parade organizers” should be pressured.

“For the first time ever, an LGBT group will march under its own banner in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and that’s a show of important progress,” the statement read. “Until all are welcome — especially LGBT Irish groups, who have worked for decades to bring fairness to Fifth Avenue — parade organizers must be held accountable to ending this ban once and for all.”

Seth Adam, a GLAAD spokesperson, told CNN Money on March 2 that the group was not organizing a Guinness boycott this year.

Other groups involved in the boycott were unhappy with GLAAD’s inaction this year, though they welcomed the statement.

“GLAAD has told us they support our position, which is it’s not a success until an Irish LGBT group can march under its own banner,” said John Francis Mulligan, a member of Irish Queers.