The stars come out in San Francisco to share why media matters.
Beginning in 1990, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have hosted their annual Media Awards in order to “recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and the issues that affect their lives.” This year Curve was on the red carpet at the San Francisco 2010 awards show to speak with celebrities who are being honored for their work in gay advocacy and bringing visibility to the LGBT community.
The first person to walk down the red carpet at the awards on June 5 was not a Hollywood celebrity. It was Elke Kennedy—mother of Sean Kennedy, a young South Carolina gay man who was beaten to death outside of a gay bar in his hometown in 2007. Amidst the glamorous and the festive atmosphere, Kennedy’s presence was a humbling reminder of why promoting fair and inclusive stories about LGBT people has never been more important.
“We need to reach these kids,” Kennedy said solemnly. “We need to teach these young folks that there are choices, and that hate and violence and religious bigotry is not acceptable.”
The new president of GLAAD, Jarrett Barrios, explained, “GLAAD is about changing hearts and minds. [It’s] is about amplifying the voices of LGBT folks, because when our voices are heard, when our challenges and aspirations are understood, people are fair-minded, and they’ll support us…and we use the media. Right now we’re going after Bill O’Reilly, with his comparison of gay people as being terrorists. But we also try to tell the good stories, and make sure that they are reflected fairly and accurately. We do that in the context of news coverage, but we also do it in support of ballot-initiative campaigns to protect our equality.”
Of course, in the age of the internet, digital media has become a useful tool in helping to promote equality. Barrios went on to state, “We have a digital award we are going to present tonight.” The Stonewall Riots: 40 Years Later (AARP.org) won the award that evening.
Next up on the red carpet, Jai Rodriguez, star of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which featured a diverse group of gay men during its run. Jai was nice enough to give me the scoop on his new project, which promises to be very gay-positive.
“I just started a new series for the CW. I did a pilot for them. I play a gay character, but they were very adamant—like, we don’t want you to play up the sexuality. Just be you. You’re sexuality is secondary…I play a first year Harvard medical student, so intelligence is first. Everything else is secondary. It’s kind of cool to hear networks saying that. I think a lot of times gay people are being laughed at, instead of laughing with. I’ve played those roles before, and it’s not always the most fun. And so for a network to support me in this way is really exciting.”
Best known for portraying a gay black man in Noah’s Arc, Jenson Atwood (who presented the Davidson/Valentini Award to Lee Daniels that night) was also in attendance. When asked why he has become such an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, Atwood responded, “I would like to believe that I’ve always been involved. It’s never been in as open a form as it is now—now that I’m an actor, and people know who I am. But throughout my life, whether it’s been friends or family members, the LGBT has been a part of my life.”
Actress Michelle Clunie from Queer as Folk (pictured left with her Queer co-star Thea Gill) was also there to show her support. I got to talk to Michelle a little bit about her new show, Make it or Break it.
“It’s about a group of high school girls who follow their dreams of being in the Olympics…I’m a toughie, as usual,” she laughed.
Wilson Cruz, who famously played Ricky in My So-Called Life, was there as a presenter. When I playfully asked if there would ever be a MSCL reunion, Cruz answered jokingly, “Maybe when we’re all middle-aged. It would be like, My So-Called Mid-Life Crisis, or something.”
Cruz reinforced Barrios’ statement that it’s the job of the media to win over the hearts and minds of people when it comes to LGBT issues.
“It’s not just about telling the facts—which the news media does well, and we celebrate them at GLAAD. But I think as far as feature films or documentaries, we can actually reach into the hearts of people, and let them know what the experience is on a first-hand basis. I think that when people know us, then they are on our side, more than not, and that’s how we change the world. We change the world one person at a time—one story at a time.”
One story that has recently touched the hearts of the LGBT community is that of Chely Wright, who was featured in our June issue. I was fortunate enough to get to speak to her on the red carpet, and when I asked her how the reception from the country music scene has been toward her coming out, Wright replied, “Well it’s been mixed, as you might imagine, but I’m not focusing on any negatives…the positives have been absolutely amazing, and that includes the fans, and people in the industry. If there are any cynics out there, I’m not paying attention. I’ve gotten thousands of letters from young people in particular, and some older young people, that have written me…saying that you’ve saved my life by coming out. I was hopeful to change the situation of one young person, and it’s been thousands. It’s been incredible.”
Last but not least, celebrity A-lister Cybill Shepherd—who received an honor that night for her work in promoting LGBT equality—showed up, along with her two daughters. We all knew that former Curve cover girl Clementine Ford is out, but it turns out that Shepherd’s youngest daughter, Ariel Shepherd-Oppenheimer, is also a lesbian, and she was accompanied by her girlfriend. Another surprise was Clementine’s date, singer Linda Perry.
About her mother’s achievements, Clementine stated, “I’m mostly proud of her for the personal stuff.”
Shepherd’s personal life is indeed a testament to her passion for equality. When I asked her about why she became involved with LGBT rights, her answer was heart-felt and poignant.
“Having witnessed the segregated south, and the inhuman treatment of blacks where I grew up, and being in Memphis when Martin Luther King was assassinated—that was the moment that I [knew I] had to become a political activist. And once you look at equality, you can’t draw any line based on sexual orientation, or religion. We just want our children to grow up and flower. The world needs all its flowers. I kind of feel like I’m receiving this honor on behalf of—and I’d like to dedicate it to—my sister, Terry Shepherd, who a passed away a year ago. She was a lesbian all her life…during her time it was an atmosphere of fear and repression. So this is one of the happiest moments of my life—not only to talk about and honor my sister…and honoring and celebrating my two daughters, who are expressing who they are."
With that last thoughtful response, the walk down the red carpet came to a close, and the festivities began.