It was all cheers as the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) celebrated the third anniversary since the founding of its Chicago Leadership Council at the MillerCoors Headquarters 16th-floor pub on July 16. Actor and GLAAD activist Wilson Cruz helped celebrate.
The casual celebration, held at the same venue since the first anniversary, was open to anybody working, supporting or friendly with GLAAD. Approximately 100 people attended and were able to enjoy the various beers, ciders and non-alcoholic beverages MillerCoors offers.
According to Angela Barnes, co-chair of the Chicago Leadership Council, the mission of the event, besides celebrating the anniversary, was to make people aware of GLAAD's overall mission and what the organization does. Also moving with the overall mission, the organization now only uses its acronym in order to move away from its full name and avoid being solely associated with the term "defamation." Barnes explained the acronym supports the group's broader focus.
As opposed to the fundraisers GLAAD holds throughout the year, Barnes called this particular event a "friend-raiser" to get people aware of GLAAD and become more engaged by meeting, mingling, networking and connecting.
"It's fantastic," Barnes said of the Chicago Leadership Council's 3rd anniversary. "I think that we're really building here in Chicago. I think a lot of people see GLAAD as really 'that's the media works and it's LA and it's New York.' I think we're really seeing the value of having a presence here in Chicago."
MillerCoors Manager of Community Commerce and Partnership Doug Sanborn said MillerCoors has been an ongoing partner and supporter of GLAAD for over 10 years. According to Sanborn, the partnership originated with the company and company's leaders' beliefs that as a good corporate citizen action must be taken.
"You've got to walk the walk and we've always believed in supporting our consumers in the places we live, work, play, but where we exist we have to be doing the right thing and GLAAD helps all people become better people by making sure there's a fair and accurate representation of the LGBT community," said Sanborn. "Someday I hope we don't need GLAAD. I hope someday that mankind will reach a point of treating everyone fairly and equally, that the work of the organization will be complete, but I very much, on behalf of MillerCoors, am looking forward to making sure we help in any way we can as we move forward."
Sanborn called the anniversary celebration a fantastic opportunity to get everyone supporting the cause together, while his company provided the space and shared what MillerCoors has to offer.
"It's an opportunity for us to showcase the partnership we truly believe in," Sanborn said. "Its really important to talk about the responsibility aspect of this company in that not only do we have great beers, but we really take seriously the aspect that we have a great responsibility and that's not only in making sure that you drink responsibly, but you live responsibly."
Cruz has been affiliated with GLAAD for 20 years; currently standing as the national spokesperson and part of the development team. Beginning his involvement with the organization in 1995, he received the GLAAD Media Award for "My So-Called Life" for Best Dramatic Series. In 1997, he joined GLAAD's board of director. Later in his career, he accepted the Visibilidad Award in 2008, which is given to an LGBT media professional from the Latino world and went on to host the GLAAD Media Awards.
"I bring that personal experience to my work at GLAAD," said Cruz. "It's one thing to be an actor and play a role; it's a whole other thing to effectively tell your story in a way that communicates what you really want to say, so that people will actually hear it. GLAAD helped me do that. The thing about telling my own personal story is that I actually got to witness and experience how one person's story can actually change peoples' hearts and minds."
His speech at the evening's event focused on his experience in the media, being a GLAAD activist, and his views on the importance of telling a story along with his hope for more equality in the world. Cruz explained the most powerful tool people have as community members and as activists is the ability to share personal stories.
"When we tell people how our lives are affected in that way and we tell them the pains and struggles we go through, people understand our issues and join our cause and they start to support our issues," Cruz said. "My goal is the dream I stated earlier today, which is to make sure we live in a world where nobody, based on their sexual orientation, or their gender identity, or their race is discriminated against because of those reasons and that's a long way to come. The Voting Rights Act is a good example, what we just experienced with Trayvon Martin is another good example. The work is continuous. That's what gets me going."
Barnes described having Cruz in Chicago helped to connect attendees with what is happening on a national level.
"He's very dynamic and we're very honored he was able to be here in Chicago. People recognize him and he's a very passionate advocate for the cause," said Barnes. "I think that once we articulate what we do, the amplification of the voice of the LGBTQ community, people will start to understand how that's important and how we can really relay stories that are impacting people all around the countrycertainly here in the Midwest and in Chicagoand they see the value that we can add."