During Pride Month, Repair the World is featuring interviews with the people and organizations who are on the forefront of the LGBTQ movement. This week: Ross Murray talks about his role as Director of News and Faith Initiatives at GLAAD – one of the leading organizations in this country working for LGBTQ awareness and rights through media and culture.
How did you get involved with GLAAD? What drew you to the organization?
My background is working in religion, particularly in the Mainline Protestant world. GLAAD is actually the first secular organization I’ve ever worked with. Before GLAAD, I worked for a Lutheran LGBT group, which at the time was called Lutherans Concerned, and is now called Reconciling Works. I was there when the Evangelical Lutheran church changed their policy about allowing clergy to recognize and support “publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.” They are the largest Lutheran denomination in the country, so it was a big deal. While at my former job, I worked with my predecessor here at GLAAD. So when she resigned to do private consulting, I thought it could be a good fit.
How did the Faith Initiatives program get started at GLAAD?
It started 6 years ago, before my time. After the 2004 election, many exit polls noted how people mentioned moral values as one of the reasons they voted for the president. A lot of LGBT advocacy organizations began to realize at that point that they hadn’t been engaging fully with religious communities, and began to establish programs to do so. It’s been a really fruitful shift. At GLAAD we have a huge network of pro-LGBT religious leaders, and the program focuses on figuring out how we best work with them to influence how the story of religion and the LGBT community is being told in the public sphere. For example, if the issue is marriage equality, how can we share voices of rabbis and ministers who would say, “I’d like to help loving, committed, same gender couples get married, but I can’t right now.”
What are the major program areas within the Faith Initiatives wing?
Last year GLAAD did a study called Missing Voices, commissioned through the University of Missouri. It examined which religious representatives the mainstream media outlets tend to go to when talking about LGBT issues. It turns out, three quarters of speakers in mainstream media represent a tradition or denomination that has a formal policy or culture opposed to LGBT equality. Mainline Protestant and Jewish voices are underrepresented – and when there is a Jewish voice included, it’s often someone from an ultra Orthodox community. The news likes excitement and drama, which means religious voices that are more tolerant get shut out of the conversation.
We have a bevy of speakers including faith leaders, and I work to actively pitch the mainstream media and let them know who they should be talking to. On the flip side, we help train people who are not explicitly working within the religious world – like lawyers and non-profit workers – to have religious talking points.
We also help get out the stories of people who are doing exciting pro LGBT work in the religious world. For example, there’s a man named Jayson Littman who started a successful Jewish LGBT party production company called He’Bro. We did a profile on him where he talked about his experience with reparative therapy programs, and he’s received other media attention. He does not necessarily think of himself as a religious leader because he’s more on the social and cultural side of things. But he is someone with a voice who is working explicitly within the Jewish world. People pay attention to that.
Any goals moving forward?
It’s really about continuing with what we’re doing and helping shift the view of the “moveable middle.” We want to make sure the media continues on a pro LGBT trajectory, and also work with pro LGBT religious leaders who are working within denominations that tend to be stereotypically anti-gay. It’s really great to be a part of this work, and to help be a sounding board for religious leaders. I went to seminary so I know about Lutheran theology. Now I’m learning about how the politics of religion work.
Find out more about GLAAD’s work at their website.