Logo Trailblazer Honors: RuPaul, Harvey Fierstein Speak Out Against Orlando Shooter on Behalf of LGBT Community
At the star-studded event dedicated to the victims of the June 12 tragedy, 'My So-Called Life' alum Wilson Cruz told the story of Brenda McCool, his mother's stepsister who died in the massacre.
Just days after the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 50 people dead, RuPaul wasn't quite sure what he wanted to say about the tragedy.
But by the time he took the stage at Logo's Trailblazer Honors, which taped Thursday night at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine ahead of a Saturday airing on Logo and VH1, he had found an eloquent but blunt way to condemn the shooter and stick up for the LGBT community.
"We are once again reminded that the fight for civil rights is never ending, but we won't let the darkest recesses of human nature extinguish the light and hope and love we feel in our soul. As gay people we get to choose our families. My chosen family includes millions of brave men and women across this country and around the world. Don't f— with my family," he said to loud cheers from the audience before leading the crowd in a moment of silence for the "family we lost" on June 12 in Orlando. RuPaul's powerful words were just one of the memorable moments of the third annual event honoring pioneers in the fight for equality, which this year was also dedicated to the people of Orlando. And indeed the tragedy seemed to still be on the minds of honorees like Billie Jean King and Harvey Fierstein as well as presenter Emma Stone, who all addressed the incident in their remarks from the stage.
Actor Wilson Cruz, arguably best known for his role on My So-Called Life, also shared the story of his mother's stepsister who died in the shooting, and Rachel Platten delivered stripped-down tribute performances of "Stand By You" and "Fight Song." Platten's performances bookended the show, opening the evening with 'Stand By You" in front of screens displaying the pictures and names of the shooting victims and closing with "Fight Song," with pictures of Orlando vigils serving as a backdrop for Platten's ubiquitous anthem of perseverance.
Other stars who took the stage included Chloe Grace Moretz, Macklemore, Don Lemon, Thomas Roberts, Lance Bass and Mary Lambert, who performed "Same Love" accompanied by a gospel choir.
There was also a performance of "I Am What I Am" by the cast of RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars as part of the tribute to Broadway veteran and LGBT advocate Fierstein.
Fierstein took some time at the beginning of his acceptance speech to condemn the soul-destroying "hate turned inward" that he insisted motivated the Orlando shooter.
"These last two weeks have been very hard for all of us, especially for gay people who, as soon as we heard the news we knew. We knew who took out that gun and shot. We knew it wasn't something to do with Islam. We knew it was hate," Fierstein said. "That hate turned inward, hate so strong, hate that destroyed so completely that his soul was gone, completely gone, and all he could do was cry out and instead of knowing there was someone to cry out towards — 'Help me be myself. Help me. Tell me I'm all right. He took a gun to prove he was a man and destroyed hundreds of lives. It wasn't just 49 dead people. All of those other people that were shot—all of their friends, all of their families' lives destroyed — because someone told him he could not be him."
Cruz, meanwhile focused on telling McCool's story, wanting to make sure she wasn't forgotten.
He explained that she loved to dance, especially to salsa music, and the last time he saw her it was in his mother's kitchen in Orlando when she told him that her son Isaiah had recently come out. McCool, who Cruz said was a "mother of 11 and mother figure to many more," vowed to protect Isaiah, which is just what she did in her last act on June 12.
"For so many Latino LGBT youths, Latin nights at clubs like Pulse are a refuge. They're the first places we can celebrate our love of our music, our culture and who we are," Cruz said. "For Brenda, it was the place she could spend time with her son where he was his most authentic self. And it was beautiful. On the night we lost 49 community members and allies, Brenda protected her son by jumping in front of the gun. She had beat cancer twice so maybe she thought she was indestructible. But more likely it was instinct — a lioness protecting her cub. I want people to remember Brenda McCool's name. She's a hero, not only because she saved Isaiah's life that night, but because she was a proud and fierce advocate for all of her LGBT family."
He continued, "So to honor all of the innocent lives we lost, our community must stay visible and stay proud. Brenda would want that. She'd want us to get back out there and dance. And I, for one, don't intend to let her down."
With that, Cruz did a bit of salsa dancing in place, and it was clear he already moved Stone and King, who took the stage next.
"I just wanted to take a moment to give my love to the people of Orlando, especially the friends and families of the victims. That was so beautiful," Stone said of Cruz's story.
She also expressed her support for the members of Congress who recently protested to push for gun-control reform.
"I want to thank the representatives who held the floor of the House to demand common-sense gun laws," Stone said. "We stand and sit in solidarity with you. I don't think it's ever been more appropriate to celebrate the heroes of equality than right now, and that is what tonight is all about."
Stone was on hand to honor King, the tennis champ the actress plays in the upcoming movie Battle of the Sexes, opposite Steve Carell's Bobby Riggs.
King vowed not to forget McCool and called for love over hate.
"I want to share this award with the entire LGBT community across the world. Now more than ever, as Wilson talked about. I'll be thinking about Brenda forever, a she-ro for sure," King said. "It's just more important that we stand together than ever, that we support one another and speak openly and loudly about the need for complete equality in our world. … As we come to grips with the horrible events in Orlando, I urge each of us to look deep within ourselves and find that part of ourselves that knows that love is much stronger than hate. … We are all trailblazers, and I look forward to the day when we, all of us, are recognized for our achievements. And I dream of the day when we're all equal and respected and loved."
In closing, she said, "Love not hate. Love not hate."
Additional honorees included Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Subhi Nahas and The Advocate. The third annual Trailblazer Honors will be simulcast on Logo and VH1 on Saturday, June 25, at 8 p.m.