There was a party going on all around Herndon Graddick at the GLAAD Media Awards in LA on Saturday night but the organization's new president seemed dead serious much of the time.
'This isn't just a party,' he told the crowd. 'This is a fundraiser that funds our organization 365 days a year. We're changing America bit by bit, story by story.'
The head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation did not appear to be reading off of a teleprompter during his powerful remarks, including when he spoke movingly about growing up as a closeted gay kid in Alabama.
'To be honest with you, I never thought that I would tell another person that I was gay,' he said. 'When I realized I was gay, I was 13 and, honestly, the first thing I thought to myself was: 'Oh shit.' ... I pretended to be straight and I had a plan if I was ever to be found out. As sad as it is to say, what I was going to do was get drunk and drive my car into a tree.'
It was this kind of candid talk that characterized Graddick's first appearance as president of an organization that appears to be taking on a more aggressive and proactive approach to its work.
In recent months, GLAAD's work has included taking the lead in getting the Miss Universe pageant to change its rules and allow transgender females to compete, publicizing the case of Jennifer Tyrrell who was booted as den mom of her son's Cub Scouts troop because she is a lesbian, slamming actor Kirk Cameron for his anti-gay comments, and launching the 'Commentator Accountability Project' which keeps tabs on anti-LGBT activists and their rhetoric on cable news.
'I think that it's time for our community to go on the offensive,' Graddick told Gay Star News before the start of the dinner. 'We're not going to be the punching bags any more. ... That we're no longer the silent sort of invisible presence in our community.'
'My ambition is for gay people and transgender people to be treated fairly in the media just like anybody else,' he added. 'I think it's finally time for us to grab our power and really use it and make sure that we're not sort of treated as second-class citizens anymore. I intend to do that in this role at GLAAD.'
Later, during his remarks to the crowd of more than 1,200 at the Westin Bonaventure hotel, Graddick said he had never met another gay person until he was 19 and that it wasn't until leaving Alabama for California that he learned that 'everything I had been taught was essentially bullshit.'
'I got pissed,' he said. 'Kids across the country are making themselves miserable and frankly, leading themselves to the brink of suicide because of the bullshit they learned from a bigoted society. And it's the role of GLAAD to fix that.'
'The new GLAAD is going on the offensive and not just sitting back and waiting for somebody to say something negative about us but really fighting back,' he added. 'I'm grateful to have this opportunity and this job because I think, for once, we can really change the way that LGBT people live their lives across the country. ... We're making a difference.'
He's also not afraid to let his language get a little salty.
When introducing Jennifer Tyrell, the Ohio woman ousted as den leader of her son's scout troop because she is a lesbian, Haddick said the situation is 'complete bulshit and it's time we call them on it.'
'You know what? It's 2012. We're sick of this shit and GLAAD is going to do something about it.'