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Television has been a powerful force in social change for a variety of cultural issues, but this year’s annual Paley Center for Media benefit gala focused on the significant role the medium has played in LGBT equality over the past six decades.
The fundraising event commemorated the trailblazing work by networks, studios, producers and other creative talents across the media landscape that have made an indelible mark on our society’s LGBT consciousness. From historic visionaries like Norman Lear to modern envelope-pushers like Transparent creator Jill Soloway and How to Get Away with Murder showrunner Peter Nowalk, television’s finest gathered for the celebration Wednesday evening at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
Lear reminisced about LGBT milestones on the small screen with The Hollywood Reporter before attendees shuffled into the venue’s Guerin Pavilion for a filet mignon dinner. “The moment I cherish the most is when Edith in All in the Family lost her faith in God because a transsexual that she adored had been killed,” he said of his groundbreaking CBS sitcom, the first to feature an openly gay character on TV. “It was one of the most extraordinary performances I’ll ever see.”
Inside the ballroom, a series of excerpts from other memorable LGBT moments in television history flashed onscreen throughout the evening, including the first instance the word “homosexual” was used in a series — NBC’s Espionage in 1963 — and the time Ellen DeGeneres came out in “The Puppy Episode” of her eponymous sitcom in 1997.
In between clips, presenters including Lear, Portia de Rossi, Ryan Murphy, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Amy Landecker, Betty DeGeneres (Ellen DeGeneres‘ mom) and NBA player Jason Collins made their way to the podium to highlight various breakthroughs in the medium’s depiction of the LGBT equality struggle throughout the past 50 years. They singled out pioneering shows like NBC’s Will & Grace and ER, Showtime’s Queer as Folk and The L Word, MTV’s The Real World and FX’s Nip/Tuck, along with more recent hits like ABC’s Modern Family and Grey’s Anatomy, Fox’s Glee, AMC’s Mad Men and Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
The event was sponsored by Honey Maid, whose March ad campaign “This Is Wholesome” featured a same-sex couple in a commercial about modern American families. When the company received numerous letters criticizing the ad, they asked two artists to transform the hate mail into something beautiful. The result was a display piece that spelled out “Love,” which guests posed next to for photos during the evening.
Eric Stonestreet poses for a photo with the artwork on Wed., Nov. 12, in Los Angeles.
A current guest star on Shonda Rhimes‘ political melodrama, de Rossi is especially proud of the progressiveness of the ABC series. “Just recently, in the last couple years on Scandal, when the president of the United States told his male chief of staff to go home to his husband, Ellen and I looked at each other and had a moment because we couldn’t believe that we were hearing that,” she told THR. “This year has been incredible for our community.”
Other attendees included Transparent creator Soloway and her series star Amy Landecker, who say it’s no coincidence that they’ve chosen to center the show on a transgender father. “I feel like the transgender community is the most marginalized of all of LGBT people because it’s a smaller segment and it’s had no voice,” she said, adding of the Amazon drama: “This is really the first time that we’re getting to see that.”
Lear, too, spoke highly of the series, calling the writing, directing and acting performances some of the best he can remember. So what does the TV veteran think is next for the medium? “My bumper sticker reads: just another version of you,” Lear smiled. “When television is reflecting that, I’ll be happy.”
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