July 26, 2021

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Meet Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO, GLAAD

Since becoming GLAAD President & CEO in 2014, Sarah Kate Ellis has worked to turn the organization from a media watchdog into one of the most influential cultural agents across media. Learn more about her and her inspiring work in our newest feature.

For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about your background.

Before joining GLAAD, I worked for years as a media executive helping to transform and grow a variety of national media brands, including VOGUE, InStyle, Real Simple, New York, and House & Garden. 

Since becoming GLAAD President & CEO of GLAAD in 2014, I have worked to turn the organization from a media watchdog into one of the most influential cultural agents across media. One of the biggest ways I’ve done this is through the creation of the GLAAD Media Institute (GMI), which we established in 2018. The GMI focuses on research into LGBTQ representation and acceptance, consulting on LGBTQ storylines in media and Hollywood, and training activists on LGBTQ media advocacy and storytelling that creates change. Over the past few years alone, the GLAAD Media Institute has trained over 10,000 people and consulted on hundreds of media projects. I’ve also worked to increase GLAAD’s work in advertising and have worked with global brands including Dow, P&G, Skittles, Ketel One, Wells Fargo, Hilton, and many others on LGBTQ-inclusive marketing, public relations, and ad campaigns.

I joined GLAAD because of the power of media in creating real and substantive change and to create a better world for my wife, our two children, LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ families like mine.

What are you most looking forward to about reviewing Anthem Awards entries?

I’m most looking forward to identifying the organizations, brands, and campaigns that are setting a new standard for how social impact and diversity, equity, and inclusion work is being produced. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer shows that brands are more trusted than government today. That fact, coupled with the massive reach that brands have, is a real opportunity to create content that educates and fuels social change. Now more than ever before, brands are listening to calls from consumers to create campaigns and initiatives that are impactfully responding to the cultural moment and helping to push forward positive cultural change.

At GLAAD, we’ve seen how Pride campaigns have really grown in number and in impact over the last six years since marriage equality became legal in the U.S. However, one of the things we’ve been trying to prioritize as an organization is our work with brands to not only create authentic and impact Pride campaigns, but to make sure that LGBTQ inclusion and support is a priority of the brand all year-round. I think the Anthem Awards is the perfect place to really spotlight the work that is moving the needle and that can act as both an example and a catalyst for greater diversity and inclusion across industries.

What does it take for a project or campaign to cause real-world change?

At GLAAD, we know that media, in its many forms, is an empathy machine that has the power to change hearts and minds. That’s why our work with brands on LGBTQ-inclusive campaigns has always been centered on creating intentional impact through awareness and understanding. From an LGBTQ perspective, it’s no longer enough to just throw a rainbow on your logo or products. We often tell brands that you have to join the movement, rather than market to a moment. Campaigns should be sure to include LGBTQ talent in front of the camera and behind the scenes, to compensate influencers and LGBTQ talent for their work, and media buys should include LGBTQ media. A powerful way to do this is by using your projects or campaigns to really highlight LGBTQ people and the issues affecting the community today. For example, we’ve been encouraging brands and organizations to speak out in support of the Equality Act and to use their platforms to move the legislation forward. Highlighting other LGBTQ issues like the unprecedented number of attacks on transgender youth this year or advances in HIV prevention and treatment are key ways that brands and organizations can educate their consumers and ultimately drive greater understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

How does your work at GLAAD support your mission?

At GLAAD, our mission is to achieve 100% acceptance for the LGBTQ community. We do that by working to increase LGBTQ representation and visibility across all sectors of media, including Hollywood, journalism, advertising, digital media, and more. Our team provides behind-the-scenes guidance on LGBTQ characters in TV, film, video games, and Spanish-Language media, ensures journalists are covering the LGBTQ community in a fair, accurate, and inclusive way, and consults with brands around the year to create authentic and impactful advertising and issues campaigns. GLAAD is helping to shape the general public’s perception of LGBTQ people, ultimately growing acceptance and comfortability of our community.

Research shows that only approximately 18% of the American public thinks that they personally know someone who is transgender. That means that most people are meeting their first trans person through the media, which is why it’s critical for our work to exist to ensure that trans people are portrayed as the multi-dimensional people they are, rather than being subjected to the harmful stereotypes and tropes that we have seen far too often. What people see and hear in media – from TV, to film, to advertising – impacts the decisions they make in the boardrooms, academia and institutions of higher education, court rooms, newsrooms, living rooms, and at the ballot box. When they see and hear members of the LGBTQ community accurately and authentically included in media, they make decisions that advance equality for everyone.

Bonus: What’s your favorite purpose-driven project or mission-driven campaign right now, and why?

I’m personally so excited about the new Visibility Project that we just launched with P&G. Our research over the past two years with P&G has found two key themes: 1) consumers look more favorably upon brands who are LGBTQ-inclusive; 2) Ad and marketing executives are no longer concerned about backlash for including LGBTQ people in their ads, but rather about backlash from the LGBTQ community for inauthentic representation. 

With the Visibility Project, GLAAD and P&G are planning to work with brands to drive and to sustain LGBTQ inclusion in advertising and marketing, ultimately using business as a true force for good to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance. We’re doing so by offering brands access to our industry-leading research and subject matter experts that can help guide the future of LGBTQ inclusion and representation in advertising. Through the Visibility Project, we have a massive opportunity to create incredible growth and impact in the next few years, and I’m proud that GLAAD is leading the charge for a more diverse and inclusive advertising industry.