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Que(e)ries: Are Bill Clinton and Brett Ratner Really Worthy of GLAAD Media Awards?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire April 4, 2013 at 1:34PM

GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, if you still haven't figured that out) has announced the second round of honorees for the trio of ceremonies that will make up their 24th annual Media Awards. On April 20th in Los Angeles, former President Bill Clinton and entertainment lawyer Steve Warren will be honored by the organization. This follows the New York event last month where Madonna -- "controversially" dressed in a Boy Scouts uniform -- feted Anderson Cooper with the Vito Russo Award, and Russell Simmons presented the Ally Award to Brett Ratner (yes, you read that right). A third event takes place in San Francisco in May, with Adam Lambert the only honoree announced so far.
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Brett Ratner at last month's GLAAD Awards in New York City.
Brett Ratner at last month's GLAAD Awards in New York City.

GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, if you still haven't figured that out) has announced the second round of honorees for the trio of ceremonies that will make up their 24th annual Media Awards. On April 20th in Los Angeles, former President Bill Clinton and entertainment lawyer Steve Warren will be honored by the organization. This follows the New York event last month where Madonna -- "controversially" dressed in a Boy Scouts uniform -- feted Anderson Cooper with the Vito Russo Award, and Russell Simmons presented the Ally Award to Brett Ratner (yes, you read that right). A third event takes place in San Francisco in May, with Adam Lambert the only honoree announced so far.

The awards also have dozens of competitive categories. At the New York ceremony, the deserving likes of "How To Survive a Plague" (best documentary), "The Amazing Race" (best reality program) and "The Whale" (best New York theater) were among the winners, while "ParaNorman," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Your Sister's Sister," "Mosquita y Mari" and "Keep The Lights On" are some of the nominees in the film categories being announced in the other ceremonies. And it's great that they are being rewarded for their admirable representation of LGBT characters and storylines (though they also nominated "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" over "Pitch Perfect" in the "best film - wide release" category, but we don't need to get into that).

But let's get back to those honorees. Bill Clinton, Steve Warren, Anderson Cooper, Adam Lambert and Brett Ratner. Those are five people that GLAAD decided to honor in what was clearly a benchmark year for LGBT representation in mainstream culture. Five filthy rich white dudes, two of whom are not only straight but don't exactly have perfect track records when it comes it to LGBT issues (here's hoping Frank Ocean simply declined the invitation, because I can't think of a more obvious and worthy honoree with respect to last year).

Of the five, Brett Ratner is clearly the most mind-boggling choice. An "ally award" a year or so after he infamously said that "rehearsal is for fags" during a Q&A for his film "Tower Heist," a comment that in part led to his resignation as producer of the Academy Awards?

"Homophobe. Bigot. Gay basher. Ignorant frat boy. Fat Jewish Pig. I was called all these names when I foolishly used a gay slur in a misguided attempt to be funny during an interview," Ratner said during his acceptance speech. "Do I believe what I was called to be true? Aside from the Jewish and fat part? No. Absolutely."

Ratner went on to explain he learned a "valuable lesson": "A word can matter. Whether its said with malice or as a joke. And being insulted for using the word cannot compare to the experience of any young gay man or woman who has been the target of offensive slurs of derogatory comments."

Well, I'm certainly glad Mr. Ratner figured that out. And in his defense, he seemed to try his best to make up for his comments. Since the ordeal, Ratner has worked with GLAAD to produce and direct the "Coming Out for Equality" PSA campaign series. Which is all well and good. He at least appears to have learned his lesson, and tried to make a good example of himself. But to give him an award for that is ridiculous. Especially in this day and age of film careers crumbling because of these sorts of comments and making good examples of yourself often smelling like strategic damage control.

This can similarly be suggested with regard to politics. With public opinion polls in support of same-sex marriage surging, politicians left and right are all of a sudden changing their tune and offering public statements about how their feelings have "evolved" and they now too support same-sex marriage. And I'm sure in many cases these are honest statements. But they remain political ones. Take Bill and Hillary Clinton, who I genuinely believe are allies of LGBT people and probably have been for a long time. But they didn't say so publicly until America was ready for it. And hey, that's politics. But to give the first-ever GLAAD Advocate for Change Award to the very man who signed both Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act into law is very unsettling.

And in the press release GLAAD sent out yesterday, Clinton's past record went totally unmentioned.

"President Clinton's support of the LGBT community and recognition that DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is unconstitutional and should be struck down shows that the political landscape continues to change in favor of LGBT equality," said GLAAD's Wilson Cruz said in a statement. "Leaders and allies like President Clinton are critical to moving our march for equality forward."

Mentioning Clinton's support of striking down DOMA without acknowledging he was, you know, the man who signed it into law is a bit strange, no?

Look, I like Bill Clinton a lot. And I'm sure I'll be all teary-eyed like everyone else when he surely gives another one of his trademark gusto speeches at the GLAAD ceremony later this month. But I'll also be annoyed that the star of a show meant to honor advocacy for LGBT people is a man who only stood up for it when it was politically advantageous for him to do so.

As America inevitably moves into an age where same sex marriage is legalized, we have to be very careful who we start heroizing in the history that led up to it (or suggesting same-sex marriage is some sort of end-all of LGBT rights achievement). It's reasonable and maybe even admirable that people like Brett Ratner and Bill Clinton have reconsidered their positions on LGBT rights and come forward about it. But we should not reward them for discovering and/or publicly acknowledging their basic human decency, no matter how many $10,000 tables they sell at award shows.

"Que(e)ries" is a bi-weekly column by Indiewire Senior Writer Peter Knegt.

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