A seat at the (board) table


A few weeks ago, I received a letter that asked me to serve on the National Diversity Advisory Council of Comcast NBC/Universal. With Comcast’s purchase of NBC/Universal, Comcast is one of the nation’s largest entertainment companies. With not only the NBC-TV Network, but also the NBC and USA cable networks, including Bravo and Telemundo among many others, and with Universal Studios theme parks, cable division, phone and web services. This is one giant company. So it piqued my interest.

Calling an executive at Comcast, he told me this was not a common board and would, in reality, serve the executives of the various divisions. I guess I still didn’t get it until, one day last week, the announcement email arrived.

Our board is charged with five distinct areas: employment/workforce recruitment and retention; procurement; programming; and philanthropy and community investment.

It hit me. Along with the 35 other national leaders of the board (there are three LGBT members including myself), we are in a position to change broadcast and cable to reflect the reality of America, not “The Brady Bunch” or stereotypical images that TV has so often pandered to.

But what really hit me, and brought me to tears, was a letter that has stuck in my mind since 1972. Like it was yesterday, I still remember the man who wrote it. His name was Av Westin and he was the ABC-TV vice president of standards and practices.

Westin’s letter was in response to one I had written to ABC, asking for a meeting to discuss the invisibility of gays and lesbians in programming and the negative coverage we received in news shows.

The letter was written to him as well as his counterparts at the other two TV networks. The Gay Raiders, which I headed at the time, had created the nation’s first LGBT campaign against the networks — there was no cable TV then — to end the invisibility and stereotyping of the LGBT community in broadcasting.

Westin’s name is the only one I can recall, and I kept his letter since it was a standard brush off from what I learned later was an honored broadcast executive and producer.

We didn’t matter to him. We didn’t matter to the networks.

Through various organizations, we have continued the dialogue that has brought shows such as “Ellen” and even “Will & Grace” to TV, but we have a very long way to go. But with that letter in my hand from Comcast, we changed from fighting from the outside to being at the corporate table making the policies.

Thinking of that letter from 1972 and this appointment is not only symbolic, it points out clearly how the work of all of you have done creates change. It is also a timeline in history of how we were fighting to get in circa 1972 and now we have a seat at the table in 2011, literally. For me, who has made media an issue for almost 40 years now, this is an overwhelmingly emotional event.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at [email protected].