PROFILE: Garry: loving mother, strong leader, knockout punch

If GLAAD can be described as a charity, then for Joan Garry it

certainly begins at home. Her three kids are the driving force behind

her quest for fairer representation of gays in the media. James Chase

reports.



Joan Garry's eldest daughter recently started at a new school. Before

the term began, the 12-year-old and her two mothers visited the school

to make sure the board were aware that, for the first time in the

school's 175-year existence, it was about to unlock its gates to an

openly gay family. "Yes, of course," acknowledged the admissions

director, eyebrows raised ever so slightly. But Garry wanted to make

sure: "We're not just gay - We're, like, Today Show gay."



Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against

Defamation (GLAAD), does that a lot. That is, she'll often use the daily

challenges facing her children to help explain her own motivation - and

to proudly relay their responses to illustrate her progress. She recalls

how her daughter (at the age of seven or eight) would watch Sesame

Street, "looking for families with two moms," but never finding one.



"I am driven more by being a parent than a lesbian," she confirms.



Garry has never worked for a PR agency, nor been part of a corporate

in-house PR team. In fact, she's never even had a PR title. But GLAAD is

all about using powerful media relations, solid strategy, and incisive

execution to change opinion and influence important decision-makers.

It's effectively a PR agency for the gay community, although Garry is

quick to point out that "there's more to it than that."



In its quest to promote fair representation of gays in the media, GLAAD

has fought more than a few high-profile tussles. The most famous is

probably the five-year-long effort to educate the public about the

impact of persistent anti-gay remarks by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a West

Coast radio host. Paramount gave Schlessinger a TV show, but after key

advertisers withdrew, and ratings plummeted, it was taken off the air,

and GLAAD duly declared victory.



The recent announcement by MTV and Showtime to launch the first gay

channel is, for Garry, a remarkable convergence of the lines on her

resume; before joining GLAAD, she spent the best part of 15 years

working between the two networks. It's hard to imagine a greater

vocational coincidence, and yet Garry is not too taken aback. "It helps

make sense of how I got to this point."



Garry grew up in Amityville, Long Island, and graduated from Fordham

University in New York with a joint major in communications and

philosophy.



"What could I possibly do with that?" she pondered at the time.



Her first job in 1981 was to test-market new cable channel ideas for

Warner Amex Communications. One year later, the company had become

MTV.



Garry was now responsible for strategic planning and new business

development, and devised a business plan for the first MTV Video Music

Awards. "Ironically, 15 or so years later I was outside on the steps

protesting (Eminem's lyrics)."



Garry's seven years at MTV opened her eyes to the power of the

media.



"Nobody walks away from MTV without realizing how media shapes the

world," she says.



After taking a year off while her partner had their first child, Garry

joined Showtime. She helped to get its pay-per-view plan off the ground,

and soon discovered the best way for the channel to make money: boxing.

Eventually she found herself managing the relationship between Showtime

and high-profile promoter Don King. "My mom is in the boxing business,"

Garry's daughter would tell her school friends, "although she doesn't

box herself."



Showtime chairman and CEO Matt Blank was sad to see her go. "She's

terrific on both a business and a personal level," he says. "She's

tough, she's bold, she speaks her own mind - it's hard to intimidate

her." At that time the channel was redefining itself as a workplace in

terms of the diversity of its employees, and Blank says Garry became an

important voice. "She made a terrific impact on the soul and conscience

of Showtime. I always thought she could do more, and I wish we'd had

something else for her. I hope to find a way to bring her back some

day."



Garry joined GLAAD in June 1997. At the time some questioned the wisdom

of appointing someone with such a "corporate America" background, and

with little nonprofit experience (other than serving on the local school

board). No one is saying that now. Since she joined, GLAAD has tripled

in size, both in staff and budget. As Blank points out, many of her

skills have not gone to waste. "Her relationship with Don (King) was

great preparation for her to go in and debate the likes of Jerry

Falwell," he says.



Currently, Garry is busy working on the 13th Annual GLAAD Gay Media

Awards.



As well as raising awareness, the event generates half of the

organization's $5 million budget. As for the future, she feels

GLAAD needs to address regional media, and provide greater outreach for

coverage. "You see less outright homophobic coverage, but so many

stories are not being told."



Outside the office, Garry became the first person in New Jersey to

legally adopt her partner's children. She says their seven-year-old

twins understand that "mommy's work is about being treated fairly." And

her eldest daughter is "starting to flex her political muscle" -

recently a couple of kids at school gave her a hard time for having two

moms, so she asked them with genuine concern, "How do you know you won't

turn out to be gay?" Garry is proud of the way her children are

developing.



"Kids are like blank sheets of paper," she says. "I am so lucky to be in

a position where I can help shape their world."



JOAN GARRY

1976-1979: Fordham University, New York

Graduated with a degree in communications and philosophy

1981-1989: MTV (originally Warner Amex Communications)

Director, new business development*

1990-1997: Showtime Networks

VP, business operations*

1997-present

GLAAD, executive director

* most senior role during tenure



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