Interview with GLAAD’s Deputy VP of Strategic Partnerships

John McCourt, GLAAD’s Deputy VP of Strategic Partnerships

Visible is a brand that has used its platform to elevate marginalized communities and voices since its founding. This month in celebration of Pride we interviewed John McCourt, GLAAD’s Deputy VP of Strategic Partnerships. GLAAD is an organization that has been at the forefront of cultural change by working through entertainment, news, and digital media to share stories from the LGBTQ community that have accelerated acceptance for over 30 years.

See the detailed interview below.

Tell us about your background. What do you do every day at GLAAD? What keeps you motivated?

I am a communications professional and marketer by trade, but the common thread running through my personal and professional life has always been LGBTQ advocacy and community building. Prior to joining GLAAD, I cut my professional teeth in New York working for Out Magazine & The Advocate building integrated marketing programs for our brand advertisers. Then after the 2016 election, I wanted to apply my skills more intentionally at a nonprofit organization directly addressing the needs of our community. Enter GLAAD!

As GLAAD’s Deputy VP of Strategic Partnerships, my core responsibility is to raise money for the organization’s LGBTQ media advocacy efforts through corporate partnerships, licensing deals, and sponsorships of GLAAD programs, such as the GLAAD Media Awards and Spirit Day. Fundraising aside, this work naturally comes with a lot of day-to-day consulting and guidance to ensure brand partners that want to invest in GLAAD’s work do so in a way that incorporates GLAAD’s best practices of LGBTQ representation and framing, especially in the lead up to LGBTQ Pride month.

I stay motivated because I know I am a better, more self-aware, and compassionate LGBTQ community member and ally because of what I’ve learned working at GLAAD the past 5+ years. If I can translate a fraction of that into our corporate partnerships and see it actualized in their work, then I get to go to bed happy at night.

You switched to Visible last year after seeing and participating in our #ProudlyVisible Pride campaign. Can you tell us why the campaign resonated and what prompted the switch?

My chosen / non-biological family is vitally important to me, as such families tend to be for most LGBTQ people who face wide-ranging challenges being accepted by their blood relatives. The concept of LGBTQ “chosen family” is not at all new, but I’ve definitely noticed more and more portrayals of it in film, television, and advertising in recent years. Some get it right (in my opinion); others don’t.

Visible is one of the first companies I’ve worked with that I’ve seen offer an actual product that organically benefits LGBTQ chosen families. We may not live in the same household or share finances for the typical “family plan” to make sense, but we can still rely on and benefit from one another through the features the service offers. It just immediately made sense to me. I hope more businesses examine their product offerings through this lens and determine who they may be leaving out due to practices tailored exclusively to the “traditional family.”

A lot of brands famously make noise during Pride, but some don’t always strike the right tone. In your view, what makes for an authentic campaign and an authentic partner?

One of my favorite questions! I’ve been working with brands on LGBTQ Pride Month campaigns both prior to the 2015 Marriage Equality SCOTUS ruling and since, and I’ve definitely observed the level of “noise” growing louder and louder each year.

On one hand, the more brands engage and show support for our community during Pride, the more LGBTQ people and our stories are represented in places we otherwise were not, whether that be a highway billboard, a retail endcap, or a television advertisement. On the other hand, the more brands participate in this space, the more it starts to feel opportunistic and an attempt to “market to” the LGBTQ consumer as opposed to supporting the LGBTQ community. Both can be true; however, if you’re looking for authenticity then my biggest recommendation is to ensure LGBTQ individuals and organizations are brought to the table from the very beginning.

A few examples include:

  • Hire and fairly compensate LGBTQ creatives and talent, both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera.
  • Consult and listen to your LGBTQ employee resource group, without putting any individual member in the position of having to serve as the sole spokesperson for the entire community.
  • Ensure the most underrepresented and at-risk populations within the LGBTQ community are represented and addressed accordingly within the campaign. The over-representation of cisgender white gay men, such as myself, has become cliché at this point, and our community is much broader and more beautifully diverse. Showcase that!
  • Finally, bring on charitable partners such as GLAAD as early as possible to help inform the work and ensure community impact is kept top-of-mind. This may mean taking a hard look at the total budget for such campaigns and ensuring the total amount of money spent promoting the initiative is proportional to the donation the nonprofit partner(s) receive.

How can we be better allies to the LGBTQ community year-round?

Continue to represent us and our stories within your brand campaigns, workplace initiatives, and social impact efforts July through May.

It’s very clear that the LGBTQ community wants to be represented year-round, and there are tons of opportunities to showcase and support LGBTQ people outside of June, such as LGBTQ History Month in October, Bisexual Awareness Week in September, or Transgender Day of Visibility in March.

I would just caution any brand on how they show up during these other LGBTQ awareness days/periods to ensure your organization is using its influence to educate and share resources for that community and not just inserting your brand into the narrative. In fact, some of my favorite recent collaborations with brand partners have been working with them to ensure the LGBTQ community is represented accurately and authentically during times like the holiday season and Valentine’s Day.

For more tips, you can head to glaad.org to check out more than a dozen recommendations for corporate allies that we just released leading up to this year’s Pride season.

If you would like to learn more about GLAAD please visit https://www.glaad.org/