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The Beverly Wilshire ballroom hosted accomplished actors, writers, producers, directors, activists and a very famous A-lister on Friday night for GLSEN’s Respect Awards Los Angeles, but it was a group of LGBT teens from the organization’s student ambassador program that garnered the most praise and respect from the lively Hollywood crowd.
Even that Oscar winning A-lister – Julia Roberts who was honored with the night’s Humanitarian Award with absentee hubby Danny Moder – seemed star struck by the students, whose courage in rising above bullying to live truthful lives was on full display throughout the evening. “The young people in this room have encouraged me infinitely,” she said during her closing acceptance speech close to 10 p.m., a time she joked would normally be in line with her second REM cycle. “I’m so moved, I’m so amazed and I feel that it is now our responsibility as the Moder family – me and the four of them who didn’t come – to support all of you in this room in any and every way we can.”
Moder couldn’t make it because he was in Texas, relayed Roberts, but Ryan Murphy could. The multi-hyphenate presented the actress with her award and in the process praised the couple’s philanthropic efforts on behalf of GLSEN, UNICEF, Heal the Bay, Stand Up to Cancer and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. On a lighter note, Murphy dubbed the Moders “damn fine role models” and noted that Roberts filmed the classic Pretty Woman in the same hotel 25 years ago. (Reg Bev Will, anyone?)
Speaking of her screen work, Murphy also said that Roberts is one of the main reasons his HBO film The Normal Heart got made. During her speech, Roberts (who sat next to her agent, CAA’s Kevin Huvane) said she was thrilled to be recognized but she’s fully aware of what her role in the process really is.
“It’s a bit of a fraud because there is so much power and conversation that goes on in this room that is separate from us,” noted Roberts, who also had a witty retort for Murphy, telling him, “Twenty five years is a long time, Ryan.” “I realized tonight that I serve a purpose as a finger pointer … a good finger pointer. The one that says, ‘Look over here. Look at this young man.’ A humanitarian is a person who brings attention to the welfare and good works of others. In that regard, we are that. We are all that. I feel like this award should be the big mom award because that is what moms do all day, every day.”
The real names of the night’s other big awards are the Chairman’s Award, the Inspiration Award and the Student Advocate of the Year Award. The event – an annual fundraiser that recognizes the work of individuals, networks and companies who are creating change for LGBT students and peers in K-12 schools – pulled in more than $1.2 million for GLSEN, announced Kevin Brockman during the night’s opening remarks from the podium where he stood alongside Kathy Kloves.
The scribe, who is married to Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, enthusiastically praised her gay son as “handsome,” adding, “It doesn’t matter to me that my son is gay or straight, I just love my son for who he is.”
Kloves and Brockman, who serves as both executive vp global communications for the Disney/ABC Television Group executive and chairman of the board of GLSEN, served as the night’s co-hosts along with DreamWorks’ Chip Sullivan. Brockman and Sullivan got several nice shout outs during the evening for their tireless work on behalf of GLSEN, a national education org that works to ensure safe schools for all students by providing educational materials, policy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives.
But back to the awards. NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt grabbed the Chairman’s trophy and proved to be a fitting recipient due to his involvement in bringing many gay characters and storylines to the small screen as well as his standing as the only gay broadcast television chairman.
NBC Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler presented Greenblatt with his award and provided the packed room with many reasons to laugh. First she praised his credits, mentioning his work in bringing marginalized characters and under-served communities to the forefront on such shows as The L Word, Six Feet Under, Chicago Fire, The Voice and The New Normal, among many others. Then she mentioned that he’s “guided us and our network back to No. 1.” “What Bob can’t say tonight is suck it everybody,” she laughed. “We’re No. 1 and you’re not!”
Poehler also added: “(Bob) knows that television is a powerful and intimate medium that comes into your homes and you watch people act and you learn how you want to act and who you want to be. And most importantly, he kept Parks and Recreation on the air.”
In accepting his award, Greenblatt remembered an early time in his career when he worked at Fox which put Darren Star’s Melrose Place on the air. (The original series, not the “tacky remake on the CW,” he joked).
The year was 1994 and one of the main characters, who was gay, was to film a scene that called for a same-sex kiss. Instead of pushing the conservative boundaries of the time, the network “dipped the screen to black until the kiss was over,” said Greenblatt, who admittedly was too low on the totem pole to fight the network and advertisers. “It was really disheartening to see a network so afraid … that they literally turned the lights out. The battle I lost then only motivated me to push harder for the cause as time went on and I’m happy to say it did get easier very quickly.”
Like Roberts, Greenblatt also praised GLSEN’s student ambassadors. “This shy little kid from conservative Illinois didn’t grow up in a world where it was easy to talk a stand like these amazing kids are doing in high schools all around the country today, but he found a way to have his voice heard after all.”
Straight ally Derek Hough had no problem getting the crowd’s attention with his words. The Dancing With the Stars standout took home the Inspiration Award, handed to him by director Kenny Ortega. He told a shocking story about his childhood when he was the victim of extreme bullying. He said he was hanged upside down from a tree by his ankles that were bound with rope. Hough was then spat on, called names and taunted with a gun. “I didn’t tell anybody. I kept it to myself and dance became my GLSEN. It became my safe place where I could grow and flourish and find those answers,” he said. “I know now the worst thing you can do is suffer in silence.”
The ballroom was the opposite of silent when Student Advocate of the Year Cliff Tang accepted his award, telling the industry crowd that his 13-year-old self never could’ve imagined he’d be standing onstage at the Beverly Wilshire as a gay activist. “I am no longer a victim; I am an advocate and a leader.”
He then received a standing ovation, one of many in an applause-heavy night which included inspired remarks from GLSEN’s executive director Eliza Byard. She told the audience that GLSEN’s work with LGBT students translates to results. “When they turn to a trusted adult at school and they say those words out loud: ‘I am lesbian. I am gay. I am bisexual. I am transgender. How will I survive?’ They get an answer.”
Wheelchair bound and battling cancer, Sirdeaner Walker also brought the crowd to their feet with the help of her daughter, Dominique. In 2009, Sirdeaner’s 11-year-old son Carl committed suicide after being bullied. They recounted Carl’s story and pledged that his memory will love on through GLSEN’s work.
Honorary co-chairs of the event included Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg along with Jim Parsons and Todd Spiewak. Presenting sponsors included Target, the Walt Disney Company and Wells Fargo. Other notable names who attended the Friday fundraiser included Michael Lombardo, out soccer star Robbie Rogers (who has a memoir out next month), Greg Berlanti, Jason Collins, Brad Bessey, Morena Baccarin, Sasha Alexander, Jessica Capshaw, Cheyenne Jackson, Rose McGowan, Shemar Moore, Greg Rikaart, Elisabeth Rohm, Jonathan Schaech, Hal Sparks, Kevin Williamson, George Kotsiopoulos and J. Alexander.
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