Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Matt Bomer Turn Out for GLSEN Respect Awards

Kate Hudson (Inspiration Award), Time Inc.'s Jess Cagle (Visionary Award), ABC's Kevin Brockman (Hero Award), YouTube star Connor Franta (#Gamechanger Award), and Edward Estrada (Student Advocate of the Year) were among the honorees at Friday's gala.
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for GLSEN
Julia Roberts, Jess Cagle

Like a "bad penny," Julia Roberts announced her own return to the Beverly Wilshire hotel on Friday night.

"Reg. Bev. Wil.," Roberts said in opening her remarks, a nod to a memorable Pretty Woman line delivered by Laura San Giacomo's Kit de Luca to Roberts' Vivian Ward about the hotel, then known as Regent Beverly Wilshire. "I'm back again." 

But Roberts wasn't there to discuss Garry Marshall's 1990 film. Instead, she showed up to present her longtime friend Jess Cagle with a Visionary Award, one of six awards handed out during GLSEN's Respect Awards - Los Angeles, a lively and always inspirational event that benefits the national education organization that works to foster safe schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

She did, however, have a simple request that her words not leave the popular ballroom, filled with honorees like Kate Hudson, presenters like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jim Parsons and high-profile industryites Bob Greenblatt, Greg Berlanti, Chip Sullivan, Matt Bomer and Simon Halls. There were also plenty of journalists there, too, so apologies are in order to Roberts. (Also there: GLSEN champion and Cagle's onetime EW colleague Dave Karger, whom Roberts credited with introducing her to the organization.)

"Let's be intimate, like nobody else is going to talk about this because that is what makes me feel better," she suggested. Then she revealed the ways in which she bent her personal routine to be there. "I rarely miss bedtime for my kids and it's past their bedtime. And I rarely write things down because a paper trail is a terrible thing."

But because of her love for GLSEN and for Cagle, a veteran entertainment journalist and editor who now serves as editorial director for Time Inc.’s Celebrity, Entertainment and Style Group, Roberts made a series of exceptions. That's something one does for special nights, and Roberts said the annual fundraiser is "like my third favorite" night of the year. One of the others is her upcoming birthday on Oct. 28. 

"If you wake up next Friday and think, 'What should I get Julia for her birthday? Then donate to GLSEN. I'm going to be 49 so a $49 donation would be good," she said. The organization did well enough on Friday, raising more than $1.1 million it was announced during the show. 

But about Cagle, Roberts donated more than a few kind words, which don't typically come cheap in this town. The two met, she recalled, in a hair and makeup trailer "87 years ago" when Cagle, then a reporter for Time, arrived to interview the blossoming box-office superstar. 

"I have been in this business a long time, as this hotel can attest. I've met all kinds of people and I know how rare it is for someone so committed and accomplished in their field to also be someone who happens to be the most friendly, charming, smart, adorable, kind and fabulous as Jess Cagle," she said. "We kind of became like instant friends and I didn't know that was possible with a reporter from Time magazine."

That reporter from Time, Roberts explained, went onto hold positions of power at EW and People, where he has been instrumental in editorial initiatives like the gay '90s cover package (at EW in 1995), featuring all of the victims of the Orlando tragedy on the cover (at People earlier this year), and printing phone numbers and contact information of all 535 voting members of the United States House and Senate (also at People). She also praised People's recurring feature called 'Why I Care,' and joked that Cagle "annually stuffs the ballot box for the Most Beautiful issue" in her favor. 

Cagle then took to the stage to hug Roberts and accept his award. And while he never addressed voter fraud, he did share several personal anecdotes, stories similar to the kinds readers would find in one of the brands he oversees. (He did give shout outs to his Time Inc.' colleagues at Table 29 for actually doing the work — a joke by friend Sullivan —  including EW's Henry Goldblatt and People's JD Heyman. Cagle also thanked Roberts longtime publicist Marcy Engelman for introducing the two.)

One of those stories traced his upbringing in a small Texas town where at age 8, he discovered a book called Take the High Road. His mother bought it for his teenaged sisters to read because it addressed the subject of sex from a Christian perspective. "This little book also had illustrations...drawings of male and female reproductive organs. To an already oversexed 8-year-old this was like porn and I couldn't stop looking at it."

But what was more shocking was the text. Homosexuals were likened to predators, Cagle said. 

"I knew 8 years old that somehow that applied to me. That was 43 years ago, and a lot of good stuff has happened. I'm getting awards from Julia Roberts. But I can still see those words and I can still feel those words and I will never forget them," he said. "If you are an LGBTQ kid, if you are a racial minority, a religious minority, or, as we've been painfully reminded this past week, if you are a woman, there is no end to the bigotry and cultural discourse telling you that you are worthless or worse. We hold those messages with us long after we've grown up. We hold those messages with us long after we know better."

The words, "took a toll on me," he continued. 

"There were years of alcohol abuse, there was a lot of romantic wreckage, and I was responsible for all of it," he revealed. "Self-destructive behavior starts with not feeling loved or not feeling worth of love. It all worked out (for me). But I will say this to the kids in the room. Hate-based speech and discrimination, and even violence, is really nothing more than someone saying, 'Don't be Different. Be Like me. If you're like me, I won't discriminate against you. If you're like me, I'll let you get married. If you're like me, I'll let you go to the bathroom.' Well, the person saying that is an asshole. So don't be like them."

That ended Cagle's well-received remarks, but it wouldn't be the only time bullies were mentioned on stage. (See related story about Jeffrey Katzenberg's remarks about Republican nominee for president Donald Trump.) All of the night's honorees delivered speeches that in one way or another, broached the subject of bullies while praising the work of GLSEN and it's student advocates. 

Katzenberg did both during two appearances on stage. He not only introduced GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard, the DreamWorks co-founder returned at the end of the evening to present Hudson with the night's final honor, the Inspiration Award. In doing so, he admitted that he has known the actress "for more years than either of us care to admit." That said, Katzenberg joked that "somehow she's still so young." Their professional relationship dates back to Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, a film that DreamWorks released in 2000 and featured Hudson in a role that would garner the newcomer an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. 

"It was clear at that time that she was someone really really special," he said before also listing her titles of "entrepreneur, author and fashion powerhouse." "I have seen that brilliant young actress mature into an exceptional woman. ... But of all her roles, the one she prizes most is that of being a mother to her two sons."

Hudson then took the mic to accept her award. Though she never name checked her sons, Ryder and Bingham, she did open her acceptance speech by dropping the nickname of a recent music festival -- Desert Trip aka Oldchella. The Palm Springs event saw legends such as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who and Roger Waters rock out for a decidedly more mature crowd than the one seen at Coachella. 

"All of these guys just playing this music that was so important. They were outspoken," explained Hudson. "Their art meant something. They had so much bravery. I kept thinking to myself when I was there, 'What happened to us? Why are we so scared?' "

Those thoughts changed, she continued, as she listened to the tributes and speeches that came before hers during the Respect Awards. "I want to commend the LGBT community for continuing that and showing all children how to have that kind of courage to speak about whatever they want to speak about," she said. 

What she wanted to speak about then was her own source of inspiration, her "mama," Goldie Hawn. She gushed about how her mother has devoted so many years to her youth-based Hawn Foundation, creating a curriculum called Mind Up. "My mother talks about how she was driven to bring a solution to children who were suffering from high levels of stress and were lacking the skills to navigate the complex world," she detailed. "She was incredibly moved by statistics of school violence and bullying and youth depression and suicide, and this is really important to us — the persistent failure of the education system to help children cope with issues and flourish. So it goes without saying that I got very involved with my mom and her mission and now after 15 years, we're reaching a million children and watching them soar to become more tolerant and passionate."

Those are goals and initiatives that align with GLSEN's mission, a fact that made Hudson that much more grateful to accept her Inspiration prize. Also flushed with gratitude was Connor Franta. The YouTube star took home the #Gamechanger Award, presented by soccer star Robbie Rogers and Franta's CAA agent Andrew Graham. It was his rep who offered details about the steps leading up to Franta's official 'Coming Out' video, published on the platform on Dec. 8, 2014. It's a clip that has since been viewed more than 11 million times. "We began calling it Project X," Graham said, noting that there were many conversations about how to do it, all of which were scrapped in favor of "a very simple and direct vlog ... just a boy, a camera and his truth." 

Franta stuck with honesty during his acceptance speech, and attempted to make sense of how a self-described "weird kid reading Harry Potter behind the bleachers" could mature into a bonafide 'gamechanger.'

"What I quickly came to learn after embracing my true self just three years ago is that nobody is the same. There are not two of us exactly alike," he said. "We all have hopes dreams, fears insecurities, struggles and that's what connects us. Every single one of us has monsters hiding in our closet, but only a select few of us are made to feel like we are the monsters hiding in the closet. I felt like a monster for so long. To stand here tonight in front of you and be able to say that I love myself that is my biggest accomplishment to date."

Others were whispering about another impressive Franta fact. The YouTube star has managed to rally his online following to back GLSEN by donating money to the organization. He admitted from that stage that even he was surprised when, on his recent 24th birthday on Sept. 12, his online community "raised almost $100,000 in 7 days." 

Those are funds that will likely go towards GLSEN's efforts as the organization moves toward a major expansion as part of the recently-launched initiative GLSEN 2020. Executive director Byard offered a few details about the plan, which would see GLSEN expand to 26,000 more schools to help 1 million more LGBTQ students over the next four years. To get there, she said, they will be pushing to recruit more parents and "tens of thousands" of volunteers while beefing up the student leadership program.

"We have a lot of work ahead to bring people back together in the wake of what has happened during this election. Nights like tonight are about celebrating together and recharging together for the work ahead," Byard said. But it was also about looking back. Byard wrote more than a few sentences in tribute to "friend" and GLSEN board member Sirdeaner Walker who lost a long battle to cancer two weeks ago. She was preceded in death by her son who committed suicide at the age of 11 after "relentless" anti-gay bullying, Byard said. 

In its attempts to foster safer school environments to prevent such incidents from happening again, GLSEN leans on student ambassadors. There were plenty in the room on Friday night and the ones who took the stage included Danny Charney, Miguel Johnson, Madison Miszewski, Matt Nadel, Ellie Peña, and Alex Phillips. Other guests included Miss J Alexander, Maddie Baillio, Dan Berendsen, Raymond Braun, Hayden Byerly, Charlie Carver, Garrett Clayton, Jonathan Del Arco, Nina Dobrev, Jim Fielding, Alyssa Jirrels, Olivia Jordan, Chelsea Kane, Rob Morrow, Hari Nef, Tyler Oakley, Ephraim Sykes, JJ Totah, and Milo Ventimiglia.

And then there was Student Advocate of the Year honoree Edward Estrada, who, perhaps left the biggest impression of his peers thanks to a politically-charged speech delivered from the mouth of a 15-year-old. "Two weeks ago, I looked the Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District straight in the eye, and I told her how gender inclusive restrooms are a necessity," recalled Estrada, who only recently joined his school's gay-straight alliance, rising quickly through the vacant ranks to president when his friend Peter moved over the summer, leaving the position empty. "And we need them now."

Gender inclusive bathrooms weren't an issue when Rick Gomez went to high school, but Target's out senior vp of brand and category marketing — on hand to accept the Champion Award on behalf of his company — recalled his own experiences in school, sharing a story that proved that while times may have changed, bullying and discrimination has not. 

"When I was in high school, I was small, well-dressed and horrible in sports. That is a tough combination," he said, as laughter filled the ballroom. "I spent a lot of time trying to go unnoticed and not get bullied. Gym class was the worst."

So bad, in fact, that Gomez approached his school principal with a proposition: He suggested the school add a "zero period," offering students the option of arriving to school at 6:30 a.m. for a special gym class that would, hopefully, contain fewer bullies. "I was on a mission and it turns out that I wasn't alone. In fact we created a zero period class full of students for one reason or another who were having the same problems i was. ... I threw myself into my school work, and I missed out on a lot of those experiences that make high school worth remembering or bearable. That's why GLSEN is so important to me. It helps students have lives they want to live." 

He now works for a company, he said, that does the same for adults. "Nobody has to hide who they are to get ahead," he said. "Everyone is actively encouraged to bring their whole self to work. I'm proud to work for Target because we stand by our values, even when it's difficult. In good times and bad, inclusivity matters." 

Inclusivity is something Kevin Brockman has been fighting for as one of GLSEN's biggest (and earliest) Hollywood supporters. Hence why the organization and one of his best friends, Orange is the New Black actress Kate Mulgrew, pulled a fast one on the veteran ABC corporate communications executive and surprised him with an unannounced award. 

Mulgrew handed him a Hero Award following a well-written and well-delivered tribute. "It is curious and wonderful that such a beautiful man should be so kind, but that is Kevin's biggest secret and his biggest secret weapon," the actress said. "His impulse is always to give, never to take. But when he does take, he takes with abandon. Life is an exquisite adventure with Kevin." 

For his part, Brockman's acceptance speech was a bit of an adventure due to the surprise. "I have nothing prepared because I did not know this would happen," admitted Brockman, who told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet before the gala dinner that he wouldn't be at the podium during the event, proving he had no idea what was to come. "It is not fair to say that we would not be in this room because of me, that's ridiculous. All I did was answer a call from a friend who told me about an organization he found through another friend ... that was about ending bullying in schools. And it's a pure message: No child should feel afraid to go to school. It resonated with me because when I was in school, I was afraid. I was drawn to GLSEN for that simple reason and it's something I've carried with me for 23 years."

He also shared an amusing tidbit about those early days when he and his husband defrosted shrimp in their shower to prepare for the first local GLSEN awards gala, hosted in their friend's backyard. "I have always been amazed by the true heroes of GLSEN — the students. To give me a hero award is kind of silly when you have kids who refuse to hide," he concluded.

To learn more about GLSEN, click here
 

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