GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis Interview: Supreme Court Ruling, LGBTQ Rights – Hollywood Life

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis Torches Supreme Court For Removing LGBTQ Protection: It’s A ‘License To Discriminate’

With the Supreme Court legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people & 500 anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2023, GLAAD's CEO urges all Americans to fight back.

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  • Sarah Kate Ellis has been the President and CEO of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD since 2014.
  • Over 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation have been brought to state legislatures in 2023, and Ellis has encouraged Americans to fight back and advocate for members of the LGBTQ community.
  • The Supreme Court released an opinion allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people on Friday, June 30, 2023, further showing how important it is to fight for LGBTQ rights.

It was a night of glittering stars at the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards on March 30 in L.A. Renowned actress Gabrielle Union arrived with her 16-year-old transgender daughter Zaya, Christina Aguilera was stunning in a dramatic, sequinned mermaid-style gown, and Sarah Michelle Gellar glittered in silver sparkles. But while proudly outspoken LGBTQ celebrities like Frankie Grande, Margaret Cho, and Jane Lynch smiled for the cameras, Sarah Kate Ellisthe President & CEO of GLAAD, was about to deliver a sobering message to the packed crowd.

With 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation proposed in Republican-led statehouses across the country, and with 20 states already passing restrictions on gender transition-related health care for trans minors, and 6 restricting drag performances, it has been a record-setting year for the LGBTQ community. But not in a good way. As Ellis, who has led GLAAD since 2014, later tells HollywoodLife in an exclusive interview, “It’s pretty dark right now.” And even darker since the Supreme Court ruled on June 3o that some businesses can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

But on the night of the Media Awards, Ellis rallied the crowd with fighting words about the Republican politicians who are proposing and enacting these laws in the “red” states they control. “They’re using fear to get clicks and political points, so I ask you: are we going to let this happen? Hell no!”

Sarah Kate Ellis has been the CEO of GLAAD since 2014. (Courtesy of GLAAD)

She urged members of the LGBTQ community and their friends and families—their allies—to use their “voices” to be “loud” and powerful. That’s GLAAD’s superpower, she inveighed: “When they go low, we get loud.” The audience cheered and was clearly pumped and they need to be, to join Ellis and GLAAD in battling back against the tsunami of legislation targeting them and their rights to necessary health care, and to the same civil rights as other non-LGBTQ Americans.

“I think this is on record, the worst legislation session against LGBTQ folks, even when we were in the fight for marriage equality. And when I started [as CEO] nine years ago, we were on the precipice of advancing marriage equality,” she says.

And she is in no way overstating the threats to the most vulnerable and tiny minority groups in America: transgender teens and their families and drag queens. In red state after red state, desperately needed gender- affirming health care for transgender young people, who suffer from “gender dysmorphia” has been made illegal, despite the objections of at least 30 respected medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics .

On top of that, red states like Florida have done away with protections for students who need to use bathrooms that align with their self-identified gender and also to use their chosen pronouns and names in classes. All of which makes them targets for bullying.

Ellis attends Variety’s ‘Power of Women’ event in 2023. (Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock)

Trans girls and teens have been banned from participating in sports, drag queen performances have been legally restricted, and picketed by white supremacist hate groups, Missouri has restricted gender-affirming care for some adults, and books that feature LGBTQ characters and themes have been removed from schools and public libraries, primarily in Republican-controlled states.

Republican politicians claim that they are “protecting” trans children while passing laws preventing them and their parents from making their own health care decisions with their doctors. Yet, in reality, they are targeting  and hurting a vulnerable group that already suffers from a far higher rate of suicide and suicide attempts than non-trans teens.

LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, according to a Trevor Project study about LGBTQ youth suicide. In Texas, 56% of trans and non-binary youth considered suicide in the past year and 20% actually attempted it. In Florida, it was 54% considered suicide and 20% attempted it. Plus, 86 % of trans and non binary teens report that debates on anti-trans legislation have hurt their mental health.

Now as well as all this, Ellis and GLAAD, a non profit LGBTQ advocacy organization and the LGBTQ community face discrimination condoned by the Supreme Court who ruled in a landmark decision on June 30 that a website designer can refuse to do work for a same sex couple, in order to preserve her right to free speech.

Ellis not surprisingly objected vehemently to the decision by the court’s conservative majority and called it a ” license to discriminate.” ” It was a victory for extremism in America and for people who want to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people. But it’s a narrow ruling and we need to fight back, she spoke out on MSNBC shortly after the ruling. “America if you are open for business, you need to be open for all!

So, why is this flood of anti-trans legislation sweeping across red states in 2023 and causing havoc in the lives of so many families? “I think two things are at play,” Ellis explains. “One – six years ago, most Americans didn’t know about transgender folks. There has been an increase of visibility, which is something we do here at GLAAD. It’s telling trans and gender non-conforming stories through Hollywood and in the news. (Think Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black and TV series Pose’s five trans actors). I think there’s a heightened awareness and there’s growing acceptance.”

“Before Caitlyn Jenner came out,” she continues. “We asked Americans if they knew anyone who was transgender and only 6% of Americans said they knew someone. Now in 2023, 30% of Americans say they know someone who’s transgender. Still very small, but much larger. That being said, 70% of Americans still don’t know someone who is transgender.”

Ellis believes that unfortunately, many in this 70% majority are getting their information about trans people, drag queens, and the gender non-conforming community from “political folks, who are using our community to create fear, raise money, and bolster their careers” at the LGBTQ community’s expense. And she says that behind-the-scenes well- funded right wing organizations actually send and promote a template document to Republican state parties that they can use for the anti trans legislation. “It’s a form actually and they fill in the state and the legislators”, she reports.

In other words, Republican politicians are turning the LGBTQ community into their latest bogeyman like they have done with immigrants, in order to unite their base voters behind their party. It’s like a big older school bully deciding to beat up on the littlest kid in the schoolyard. And all the other kids fall in line behind the bully.

Ellis speaks on LGBTQ representation in media at a New York event in 2019. (AWNewYork/Shutterstock)

Trans folks in America are a small minority of folks (just 1.6 million in the entire country out of a population of 334 million), and they tend to be incredibly marginalized, Ellis points out. “They don’t have a big voice and a big platform to fight back, they’re actually just trying to get through every day of their lives, much less take on a big juggernaut… They [the GOP] found a niche community… and have really stirred up a lot of hate against them because it’s fear of the unknown and not too many people know them.”

In reality, she says, referring to what should be obvious to voters , “with all the really important meat and potato issues that affect families (What about inflation? Where are you getting your jobs from?) trans kids on a soccer field are not really affecting anyone.”

And all these laws have very real-life ramifications for families with trans children and teens who live in states that have fully banned or restricted their very necessary gender-affirming health care. Ellis explains that organizations that assist these families — “that are on the front lines and hear from them on a daily basis” — “they can’t keep up with the requests from people needing to flee their state for safety.”

“There are two situations, there are people who have the financial resources to flee a state and are able to do that, and then there are others, who don’t. So they need to shelter in place. Organizations are trying to help them in these states where all of a sudden, their family is becoming illegal and targeted, and it’s not safe for them or their families,” she elaborates.

Ellis is not kidding. For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott proclaimed that parents in his state who were providing gender-affirming care for their trans children could be investigated for child abuse, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation that could enable the state to take custody away from a parent providing gender-affirming care to their trans child. The GLAAD CEO knows of families who are living in a state of terror that children that they have done “nothing but love and nurture” could be taken away by their states.

Ellis attends the 2019 Tony Awards. (Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock)

Equally terrifying to Ellis as the prospect of trans kids being torn from their parents by Republican states is the explosion of threats and violence against the LGBTQ community in the past year.

To inform Americans and sound the alarm about the meteoric rise in anti LGBTQ hate and extremism incidents, GLAAD produced a report in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League. The report documented at least 356 incidents motivated by anti-LGBTQ hate across the country between June 2022 and April 2023. Drag events were the biggest targets for harassment. “We never had to track those numbers in the past,” Ellis wants the public to know. “But this was something we noticed was happening, so we felt like, wow, something is changed, and we started to track that.”

It doesn’t seem surprising when one political party has decided to demonize members of the LGBTQ community that right-wing extremist groups would join in and 49% of incidents are attributed to groups like the Proud Boys who have been parading outside of drag queen story time hours.

As well as these issues facing the LGBTQ community, there is an organization of women  to contend with, with the innocuous-sounding name “Moms for Liberty” that has spread local chapters like weeds across the country and it is hardly innocuous. They are actually a right-wing group that Ellis describes as “well-funded and well-organized, using fear as a lever to ban books. “This is some moms for some kids, not all moms for all kids, she says. ” And I think the distinction is really important, because their whole premise is parental rights, and they should have a voice, but not parental rights for all parents because I don’t have rights. I’m not considered part of that.”

And when Moms for Liberty demands “parental rights,” they mean parental rights to ban books in schools that feature LGBTQ characters or themes of books that feature African-American authors and or the history of slavery and Jim Crow America.

For example, Biden inauguration poet Amanda Gorman’s book The Hill We Climb (her inaugural poem) was restricted in a Florida elementary school after one mother, who was photographed at rallies for the Proud Boys and Moms for Liberty, objected to it.

The group also objects to the courses taught in schools that touch on LGBTQ content or talk about racism in America, and they are running for school boards and winning.  When Ellis says that Moms for Liberty doesn’t want parents like her to have a voice, it’s a very personal subject. She and her wife, Kristen Ellis-Henderson, have 14-year-old twins.

She calls Moms for Liberty a small force, but dangerous and admits that the LGBTQ community “didn’t expect this and we got caught off guard. But we are organizing and we’re going to come back.” She vows that GLAAD in conjunction with groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal will continue to fight back by litigating against “these unconstitutional bans on LGBTQ people. These are human rights issues.”

Fortunately, courts are starting to agree with them. So far, judges have issued injunctions against most or all parts of the gender-affirming care bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Courts in Tennessee and Florida have also blocked Florida and Tennessee’s bills restricting drag performances, for now, citing their violations of the First Amendment rights of performers.

Despite all these challenges on multiple fronts that the community is facing, Ellis asserts that their movement “has never been more coordinated and in collaboration as they prepare for the 2024 elections. She points out that the LGBTQ community and their allies carry a lot of weight at the ballot box. “We need to organize and get the people to the ballot box who are pro-equality and get pro-equality candidates in every seat possible, who understand the value of an education—a full education—and not just a white supremacist education.”

Ellis is confident that by educating more and more Americans about who the LGBTQ community really is—people like them, who just want to live their lives—that they will help elect LGBTQ-supportive candidates in critical elections in 2024.

And she sees the attacks on their community as one and the same as the attacks on women’s bodily autonomy and the vastly increased attacks on minorities. “We have a minority community that is on the verge of being the majority community in America, whether it be Hispanic or Latinx or women or LBGTQ, and that this fight over power is the last stand. I feel that this culture war that we’re living in is a modern-day civil war where social media is weaponized. But now, we’re seeing all the weaponization that has taken place on the Internet come to life on the streets and get quite violent.”

“I think we’re silly to think that we’re not living through a civil war at this moment in time.”

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