Hollywood luminaries and the LGBT community frequently went off script at the GLSEN Respect Awards to bring home the message that all students should have access to a safe and supportive school environment, regardless of sexuality. The organization’s 10th annual event, which honored Julia Roberts and Danny Moder, was held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on Friday night.
GLSEN, an organization building a network of students, parents and educators to prevent bullying against members of the LGBT community in schools, highlighted industry’s stars and execs that have made representation of minority groups a priority in the past year. Roberts and Moder, who worked on HBO’s Emmy-winning “The Normal Heart,” took home the Humanitarian Award, the night’s top honor.
Roberts, who accepted the award alone explaining that her husband was in Texas, said many people in the room deserved recognition for their efforts in heightening inclusion for LGBT students. She said, “A humanitarian is a person who brings attention to the welfare and good works of others, so in that regard we are all that.”
NBC’s Bob Greenblatt, who is also the only openly gay broadcast television chairman, earned the Chairman’s Award for his long trek record of bringing diverse characters to network television. Throughout his career, he has worked on shows ranging from “Melrose Place,” “Weeds,” “Nurse Jackie” and “Chicago Fire,” which have all had an LGBT character represented.
Star of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” Amy Poehler introduced Greenblatt. “For more than two decades Bob has brought us critical and much acclaimed programming with characters that have been groundbreaking for the LGBT community,” the comedian said, “and we have been working even before the Q was added.”
“I feel privileged to work in the entertainment business, which is also making real progress over the years,” Greenblatt noted. “I’ve had a hand in bringing many LGBT folks to television. I did it to show America how normal and universal our stories are.”
“Dancing With the Stars” Derek Hough earned the Inspiration Award and recounted his experiences of being bullied — sometimes physically — while he was growing up. “Dancing was my GLSEN,” he said.
GLSEN student ambassadors were also given a spotlight, alongside their humorous presenters, which included Poehler and Kirsten Vangsness from “Criminal Minds.” Cliff Tang, a high school student from New York, received the Student Advocate of the Year Award. Greenblatt lauded the students for their bravery and being proactive in their communities. “The real heroes are the kids in this room and all over the country that are fighting the good fight.” Many of the GLSEN student ambassadors took to the stage throughout the night to share their experiences of being bullied because of their sexual orientation and expressed feeling isolated before joining the organization.
GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard re-emphasized the purpose and continued importance of the organization. After recounting an experience of traveling to South Africa and talking to a student who identified as a lesbian and was wondering where she could receive support, Byard said, “GLSEN’s job is to make sure that whenever a young person has that fear in their heart, whenever they ask that question, they get an answer.”
Roberts closed the night’s speeches on a warm note, posing a question to the audience as they moved forward in the fight against bullying within schools. “What is the point if not to be kind and unconditional in our love and generosity toward one another? What is the point of a day that doesn’t have some kind of positive feeling?”
(Pictured: Julia Roberts accepts the GLSEN Respect Humanitarian Award from student ambassador of GLSEN Mark Pino and Ryan Murphy.)