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First Person

Equality quest

A gay Cuban-American dad and former state legislator, 39-year-old Jarrett Barrios of Jamaica Plain is the next president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

By Michael Paulson
July 26, 2009

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You’ve been active in gay issues since you were a Harvard undergrad. What’s changed in the world of gay rights over that period? There’s no such thing as gay rights -- there’s only human rights, there’s only equal rights, equal treatment.

OK, so in the quest for equality, what’s changed? Everything and nothing has changed. At least in Massachusetts, we have a whole raft of benefits and rights that are based in the state’s recognition of our fundamental legal equality. But you still hear the word “fag” thrown around. You still see stereotypes on television, in video games, in movies that tell young people, that tell all of us, that it’s OK to denigrate gay and transgendered people, because somehow they’re less equal. I’m impatient for full equality.

GLAAD’s focus is on the depiction of gays and lesbians in the media. Now that there’s Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres, Brokeback Mountain and Luke and Noah, what is there to worry about? It’s wonderful to have Will & Grace, but [we need] to have positive images of gay and lesbian people on shows for teenagers, in video games, in movies that target broad demographics and not just the metrosexual Northeast. That’s when we’re going to be able to reach into Middle America and change their hearts and minds about their gay and transgendered friends and family members.

You’ve served in the Legislature, had a brief run for DA, and you’re married to a political consultant. Will you ever run for elective office again? Nothing could be further from my mind.

Are you disappointed with Obama? We have a challenge with President Obama, as with every previous president, and that is to show him the way to a better America, an America that embraces all of us for our contributions and doesn’t discriminate against us because of our sexual orientation or any other difference.

You’re Catholic, but you have differences with the church on many issues. I reconcile being gay and being Catholic the same way I reconcile being gay and being American. One of my obligations is to help others understand how my difference in this particular way doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter at all in the most fundamental ways, whether the ways of God or the ways of country.

Why not just walk away from the church? I believe.

Are there ways in which your Cuban heritage will affect what GLAAD does? We worked with Univision to develop the first gay character on a telenovela (soap opera). I think if my grandmother were still alive and she could watch that show, as she did every telenovela on every television station, it would have the ability to open up her mind in a way that a newspaper article about something a legislature is debating never could.

Your grandparents were cigar makers. Do you ever indulge? Working at a health foundation (Blue Cross Blue Shield) I shouldn’t admit it. But I guess I’m leaving (laughs). My great uncle had a chinchal (tobacco stand) in Tampa, where I’m from, and to the day he died he rolled cigars. I have a few of those still and once a year I smoke one of them.

  • July 26, 2009 cover
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