While the GLAAD Media Awards in New York and Los Angeles attract major stars from Hollywood, the GLAAD Gala in San Francisco on Saturday, November 7th featured and honored some of the world’s leading innovators, activists, and stars in the world of technology and social media.
Tables sponsored by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were surrounded by other heavy-hitters from the tech world who turned out to enjoy an evening of cocktails, dinner and entertainment, hosted by the talented and adorable Daniel Franzese.
Keeping in line with the evening’s theme #ThisIsMyStory, Danny shared a portion of the coming out letter he wrote to his character Damian on the 10th anniversary of the hit movie Mean Girls. He admits that as a young actor he struggled with the challenge of “portraying a sensitive, moisturizing, Ashton Kutcher-loving, pink-shirt-wearing kid” in the hit movie Mean Girls then how he “hit the gay glass ceiling” in Hollywood.
The letter which ends with “P.S. I hate it when people say I’m ‘too gay to function.’ I know you do, too. Those people are part of the problem. They should refrain from using that phrase. It really is ONLY okay when Janis says it.” has since gone viral and can be read in its entirety here.
I asked Daniel about his role as an openly gay LGBT youth counselor on the HBO series Looking.
“It was just such a gift to be able to give a realistic portrayal of a person living with HIV but not letting it change their life. They’re being pursued, they’re living a happy life within a sero-discordant couple, and living a life helping others. It was a really great character I mean I love Eddy Bear.”
Daniel assures me he will be reprising that character in the upcoming Looking movie, currently in production on location in San Francisco.
Honorees at Saturday’s gala included U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube. I was so impressed by the thoughtful, powerful and passionate words from these brilliant women, as well as the encouraging words from GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis who urged us not to feel complacent over recent victories for our community. There is much work to be done!
Internet sensation and all around cutie-pie Tyler Oakley was also honored for his positive influence on today’s youth leading to a better understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQI community via social media. He humbly and honestly told the crowd that he simply started to post videos from his dorm room at Michigan State because he felt isolated and alone on campus. He never dreamed that his audience would grow to more than 7.7 million on YouTube, 4.3 million on Twitter, and 5.3 million on Instagram. His huge popularity has landed him everywhere from the Ellen show to the top of the New York Times bestseller list with his new book Binge. Honestly, it couldn’t have happened to a more wonderful young man. You’ll be glad to know that he is exactly the same person in real life as he is online.
The evening featured three inspirational and important #ThisIsMyStory honorees exemplifying the impact of social media on today’s LGBTQ+ and civil rights movement.
Leo Sheng bravely began his transition in high school and even more courageously decided to document his journey on Instagram. His posts range from heartwarming reminiscences of his grandfather to shockingly graphic images of his post-op upper surgery. His bold and honest storytelling have earned him over 43 thousand followers and the respect of people around the globe. I asked Leo about his decision to be so public with his transition and how he reacts to the praise he’s received.
“It’s amazing and kind of surreal. We’re at a point now where so many people kind of more accepting of trans identities but to really experience that was overwhelming. It meant a lot to know that so many people who I never met not only accepted who i was but supported me. To know you have a strangers support is oddly comforting.”
Controversial civil rights activist DeRay McKesson shared his story of becoming one of the most recognizable faces of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. His activism has relied heavily on sharing reports of police brutality with his 245,000 followers on Twitter, and it put him center stage of most news networks around the globe. He explained that his famous tweet “Some people are coming out of the quiet, not the closet. Simply because you did not know did not mean they were hiding.” was a reference to his being gay and opened the conversation to the complexity of being a gay black man. I was very excited to meet him, but on the red carpet I had to tell him that I received some mixed reactions to my announcement that I was going to see him at the gala. I told him that one comment accused him of inciting violence against police and used the #BlueLivesMatter. I asked him how he feels about the appropriation of the #BlackLivesMatter.
“I think that what we have seen is that is an exceptional way that people try to avoid the issue of police violence by distracting us with new hashtags like #BlueLIvesMatter, #AllLivesMatter. We know that if all lives matter was true the police wouldn’t be killing people like this and there has never been a question that blue lives matter – it has always been true in this America – but what we do know is that black lives do not matter like they should right now.”
Rongfeng Duan & Tao Li said (via an interpreter) that they were “very happy” and felt “free” during their visit to West Hollywood where they were one of ten couples married by Mayor Lindsey Horvath. Rongfeng and Tao won a contest entitled “We Do” sponsored by Taobao, China’s largest online retail website. This bold support of LGBTQI people in China is groundbreaking and encouraging in a country that is projected to have the largest LGBTQI+ community in the world. I was lucky enough to attend Shanghai Pride last year and found the movement young, alive, smart and well on their way to promoting rights and gaining acceptance there and in other major cities like Beijing.
To end the night with a bang, 8-time grammy nominee, R&B recording artist Ledisi took the stage and let us have it! Seriously, this Bay Area native has got pipes like you wouldn’t believe. On the red carpeted we chatted about one of her first roles “way back in the day” here in Northern California was Dorothy in The Wiz, one of my all-time favorite musicals. Then we hit fast-forward to talk about her role as Mahlia Jackson in Selma, an honor she could only describe as “amazing.” Amazing would also describe her performance, a perfect way to end another successful GLAAD gala here in San Francisco. For more information, to donate or to volunteer, please visit GLAAD.org.
Photos courtesy of Mike Youens.
Sister Roma is a member of San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an activist, fundraiser, columnist and the Art Director for NakedSword.com.