Sara Ramirez, Lori McCreary and Jessica Stern Discuss Responsible Storytelling

This week, OutRight Action International’s Executive Director, Jessica Stern, took part on a panel at the BUILD Series Studio with TV series Madam Secretary’s Sara Ramirez and Lori McCreary.

Madam Secretary, which follows the character of Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, will have an episode this coming Sunday, March 18th, that will feature an international LGBTIQ storyline. Wanting the representation to be accurate, producers reached out to OutRight to ensure that this would happen.

During the consultation with Sara Ramirez and writers on the storyline, one of the main concerns that arose was about the safety of the international LGBTIQ community. How would featuring their storyline on a fictional show impact their very real daily life? Lori McCreary commented on how naming specific countries could be harmful to the people on the ground, something that her and the writing team learned when consulting Jessica.

A short clip from the episode demonstrates the sensitivity that was taken into account when creating the storyline. It begins with Sara Ramirez’s character, Kat Sandoval, rushing in to inform the Secretary of State of a recent raid on an LGBTIQ nightclub, where many clubgoers were arrested on false charges and beaten. The State Department then proceeds to try and figure out a way to help these people without derailing foreign policy.

Sara describes the scene afterwards, saying, “I was so excited about the prospect of this, I certainly have a lot to learn about our work internationally when it comes to LGBTQI rights.” She continues by commenting on the involvement of OutRight and Jessica, how her joining in on the process was a way “... to influence and advise us to tell these stories responsibly.”

Having Madam Secretary give a voice to international LGBTIQ issues is also a way to show that this is a global, not just domestic, problem. During the panel discussion Jessica shared examples of arrests of transgender women being made in Indonesia, the rounding up of gay men in Chechnya, and concert goers in Egypt being detained for waving rainbow flags that demonstrate the widespreadness of these issues.  Jessica hopes it has developed a story that is both “ethical and accurate” by helping to narrate this episode with the foundation and resources of OutRight’s work.

One of the highlights of the collaboration was the opportunity to present a model conversation and have a “teachable moment.” Key components to achieving this were the language use in the script, the racial diversity on the show, and the creation of a safe space for the characters to discuss LGBTIQ topics.

“This is an aspirational show so we are modeling an aspirational conversation that might seem a little awkward or difficult to have, but I don’t think it has to be, so we’re modeling that,” Sara says. Ultimately, she hopes that it will give the audience the confidence to have these conversations on their own.

When asked what these future conversations would be, Sara and Lori both agreed that there is a strong need to get active and become involved. Donate! Volunteer! Education! All factors that will move the LGBTIQ cause forward. Jessica has the hope that the episode will inspire people to crave more of these stories and want to learn more about LGBTIQ people around the world. In the end, she wants it to inspire more compassion.

Tune in this Sunday to watch Madam Secretary’s responsible storytelling unfold and check out the entire conversation between Sara, Lori, and Jessica here. Learn more about international human rights or ask us questions during and after the show on Twitter at @OutRightIntl. Watch the panel with Jessica Stern, OutRight ED, with Sara Ramirez and Lori McCreary of "Madam Secretary":