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The Long Road to Bill Clinton's Big Gay Media Moment

With the former POTUS publicly renouncing his Defense of Marriage Act and set to accept GLAAD's first ever Advocate for Change award, his appearance at the April 20 event comes with its share of political baggage.

Charles Ommanney/Contour by Getty Images

This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The 24th GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles will honor nominees in films and television series as broadly mainstream as ParaNorman and Modern Family, casual evidence that the organization's mission to further the positive portrayal of the LGBT community is making headway. But when the curtain goes up at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles on April 20, an event frequently at the intersection of culture and politics will reach a watershed when President Clinton is awarded GLAAD's first Advocate for Change Award.

The announcement that Clinton would be honored, coming a month after the former president renounced his 1996 signing into law of the Defense of Marriage Act, puts the ceremony squarely in the forefront of the gay marriage debate as the Supreme Court weighs its constitutionality and that of California's Proposition 8. "I know now that even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, [DOMA] itself is discriminatory," Clinton wrote in a March 7 Washington Post op-ed. "It should be overturned."

VIDEO: Brett Ratner Accepts GLAAD Award: 'I Learned a Valuable Lesson' (Exclusive Video)

GLAAD's Wilson Cruz said in a statement: "President Clinton's support of the LGBT community and recognition that DOMA is unconstitutional shows that the political landscape continues to change in favor of LGBT equality. Leaders and allies like President Clinton are critical to moving our march for equality forward."

Clinton's largely gay-friendly record during his two terms as president -- including a landmark executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation for federal employees that served as a model for the nongovernment workplace -- is cited by Clinton's fellow GLAAD honoree Steve Warren, a partner in the power­house Los Angeles entertainment law firm Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush & Kaller Llp. Warren will receive GLAAD's Stephen F. Kolzak Award, presented to openly gay media professionals for their accomplishments promoting equality in the LGBT community. (Previous recipients include Ellen DeGeneres and Ian McKellen.)

"I couldn't be more thrilled he's doing this," says Warren, whose clients Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Charlize Theron will be presenters at the GLAAD Awards. "His administration set the stage for so many breakthroughs in gay rights that he's incredibly deserving of this. When you look back on the history of the gay rights movement, so many leaders have been generated from his administration, and so many firsts happened in his administration."

STORY: GLAAD Media Awards to Honor Bill Clinton

The prominence of gay characters and themes not only in movies but on hit television series like ABC's Modern Family, adds Warren, shows that the public increasingly accepts them as routine. "I mean, when you have Ann Romney saying that Modern Family is her favorite show, that speaks volumes. You cannot say that unless implicitly you're stating that you have empathy with the characters. And even when someone says, 'I'm not for gay marriage,' it's very difficult to have any level of animosity when you're feeling empathy. And that's what these shows have done. Like Dawson's Creek with the first gay kiss. Little by little, we've been building empathy."

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