GLAAD to lose $2 million in wake of media awards cancellations

Amid growing coronavirus fears, the national LGBTQ advocacy group canceled its upcoming GLAAD Media Awards galas in New York and Los Angeles.
Image: Sarah Kate Ellis, President of GLAAD, speaks at the GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills on April 12, 2018.
Sarah Kate Ellis, President of GLAAD, speaks at the GLAAD Media Awards in Beverly Hills on April 12, 2018.Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for GLAAD file
By Variety

GLAAD could be looking at a loss of $2 million because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The LGBTQ media watchdog group announced Monday that its upcoming Media Awards Gala in Los Angeles on April 16 has been canceled. The group is hoping to reschedule for the fall, but it’s still unclear if that will be possible.

The announcement comes just five days after organization announced the cancellation of the Media Awards in New York on March 19.

“This is a $2 million implication to our bottom line,” GLAAD’s president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tells Variety. “They are our biggest fundraising events and they help support a lot of our programming.”

Taylor Swift was to be honored in Los Angeles along with Janet Mock. In New York, the honorees included Ryan Murphy and Judith Light. More than 1,000 guests were expected in Los Angeles and another 800 in New York.

Fortunately, Ellis reports, many of the corporate sponsors — including pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, Hyundai, Bud Light and Ketel One — as well as individual donors have agreed not to pull their financial commitments.

“We called them individually and the majority of them without even having to ask offered and said they would turn it into a donation. It is amazing. It is phenomenal,” Ellis said. “Same with our major ticket buyers. These are expensive tickets and we said, ‘Instead of being a ticket buyer, we’d love to turn into one of our major donors.’ Over 90% of them said, ‘Yes, please.’”

Korab Zuka, vice president of public affairs at Gilead Sciences, tells Variety, “Our grantees and partners are on the front lines of the world’s toughest public health problems. We are doing everything we can to stand with and support the incredible work GLAAD is doing through these uncertain times. Together, we will weather this crisis and our community will be stronger and more resilient as a result.”

“Ketel One Vodka has been a proud supporter of the GLAAD Media Awards for ten consecutive years, standing by them to spread the message of LGBTQ inclusivity,” said Jim Ruane, vice president of Reserve Vodka at Diageo. “We support the decision of GLAAD to postpone or cancel events at this time. We will remain committed to our trusted partners, will follow their guidance on when activities can safely resume and we will continue to stand by the community.”

Even so, GLAAD expected to raise about $500,000 during the galas from multiple activations, including the silent and live auctions. There was also still money to be had from last-minute ticket and table buys.

“We were thinking of maybe putting the auctions online but a lot of these auctions are trips,” Ellis said. “No one’s head is there right now. It seems bizarre to put up a cruise. You’d be laughed right off the internet.”

For now, GLAAD staff is working from home. Its GLAAD Media Institute will continue its work, media-training local activists and advocates, especially during the 2020 election cycle.

“There are bad bills popping up everywhere and we can go in anywhere virtually and train the activists and advocates on the ground to talk about it and help fight back on these bills,” Ellis said.

Ellis also mentioned that the institute is available to creatives and writers who are working on scripts and projects at home while their current productions are on hold to help them “incorporate LGBTQ storylines as they’re writing away.”

GLAAD certainly isn’t the only not-for-profit taking a hit because of fundraiser cancellations.

“They’re grabbing dates in October and later as soon as possible because there aren’t that many nights available,” a leading Hollywood event publicist tells Variety. “There also aren’t that many spaces that are large enough to handle these benefits [in Los Angeles]. It’s like a big game of chess moving everything around.”

Charities are also losing some — if not all — of their deposits, especially if postponement means relocating the event to another venue.

In the end, it’s all a big unknown, as there are too many factors still up in the air to make any concrete decisions. “A lot of the fundraisers attract an older crowd so we don’t know if they’ll be keen to attend big events,” the publicist said. “Also, if the stock market takes a big hit, there are going to be donors who may be reluctant to spend as much money on tickets as they used to.”

Looking forward, it’s not hard for this publicist to imagine that when events do return, red carpets may not be as elaborate as they once were. “I don’t think it would be forever, but we are thinking about how are we going to make people feel safe and comfortable,” the publicist said. “Maybe there will be less media on the carpets or not as many photographers or even inside the events, maybe it will be a smaller number of guests. How often are we in a ballroom and the tables are so close to each other with as many people crammed around those tables as possible? I don’t think that’s going to fly now.”

Other benefits that have either been canceled or postponed include:

ACLU’s Centennial Gala and Fight For Our Rights After Party: The March 31 event, honoring Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, Darren Walker, and Crista Ramos and Cristina Morales, has been canceled.

Broadway Backwards: Since its inception in 2006, the yearly concert has raised $4.8 million for Broadway Cares and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. This year’s event on March 16 has been cancelled.

The Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS: The inaugural event in Los Angeles has been postponed until September.

Human Rights Campaign: The LGBTQ lobbying group’s fundraising dinners in Nashville (March 14) Los Angeles (March 28) and Houston (April 4) have been postponed or canceled.

Imagining America: The Ojai Playwrights Conference benefit at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City on May 2 has been postponed.

The LA Family Housing Awards: Postponed to Oct. 22.

The Met Gala: The annual event, which was set for May 4, has been postponed indefinitely.

Night of Too Many Stars: The annual comedy concert, hosted by Jon Stewart and benefiting Next for Autism, has been postponed.

Planned Parenthood Food Fair: The Los Angeles event, scheduled for March 19 and expected to raise $1 million, has been cancelled.

UNICEF Ball: Set for March 14 in Beverly Hills, the gala has been canceled. “We are monitoring the fluid situation and look forward to rescheduling in the months ahead,” the organization said in a statement.

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Reuters contributed.