When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) bestowed its awards last Saturday night, it repeated its outrage of last year, as far as I see it: The organization devoted to fighting discrimination against gays in the media again gave an honor to a TV show that appeared to discriminate. For the second year in a row, "As the World Turns" won the GLAAD Award as outstanding daytime TV drama.
When the Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) romance debuted on "As the World Turns" a few years ago, it was obvious that the actors weren't permitted to kiss on screen. That ban not only persisted through the eligibility period of the first GLAAD Award it won (2007), but the early part of the eligibility period of the second award too (2008). Then the gay couple, hallelujah, was finally permitted to smooch, but not to have a physical relationship beyond that — like most hormonally crazed heterosexual couples do on TV soaps. That breakthrough finally occurred in 2009, but the ban still seemed to be in place during both times "As the World Turns" was honored by GLAAD.
"As the World Turns" execs didn't admit that they discriminated against the characters, but they kind of admitted it too. Jeannie Tharrington, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble Productions, which produces the CBS series, conceded last year that the conservative portrayal of Luke and Noah's love life was due in part to "some of the feedback that we've gotten." Part of that feedback was the threat of a boycott against Procter & Gamble products led by the right-wing political group American Family Assn. of Tupelo, Miss., which denounced the show's portrayal of homosexuality as "repulsive" and "offensive."
So why would GLAAD hail "ATWT" producers with an award? Cynics say it's because the organization is desperate to get the soap's popular, studly stars, Hansis and Silbermann, to attend its award ceremony.
GLAAD president Neil Giuliano tells Gold Derby his awards program has a different agenda: "Our job is to reward and recognize when there's a fair and accurate portrayal of gay life in media. Are they always going to be perfect? No. But we do have an obligation to recognize them and thank people when they do move the needle. We've got to balance that with our frustration that it's not as much progress as we want.
"GLAAD has very much a carrot and stick approach," he adds, "fighting defamation and working in media advocacy. The awards program is the time we recognize people for being fair, accurate and inclusive. It's not the time we bring out the stick and raise our anti-defamation fists in the air about things people are not doing as well as they should."
But Giuliano is missing the point of protests against his awards. "As the World Turns" didn't provide a "fair and accurate portrayal" of gay romance in 2007 and 2008 — not unless we believe that gay people don't kiss and have sex like the heterosexual couples we see engaged in steamy trysts on TV soap operas every day.