Robert De Niro, Mariah Carey, Laverne Cox Advocate for LGBT Rights at GLAAD Awards

In the midst of national debate over controversial transgender bathroom laws in states including North Carolina, Saturday’s GLAAD Media Awards in New York were — in addition to being a celebration of the LGBT community’s banner year for progress — a platform for political activism. The awards, which took place at the Waldorf Astoria, marked bathrooms all-gender — a years-long tradition for GLAAD that is apropos this year especially.

“I think these laws are designed in part to pretend that trans people don’t exist,” host Laverne Cox told Variety. “But we do exist. I’m a testament to that, and so many trans people across the world are a testament to that. We aren’t going anywhere.”

The actress was a poised and effective host, and also found room to throw in a few one-liners and jabs: “There are way more black people here than the Oscars”; and to Connie Britton, “You know your hair is gay icon status, right?” The ceremony honored Robert De Niro and Mariah Carey, and also presented three additional awards, including outstanding magazine overall coverage, for which Variety was nominated.

Jennifer Lawrence made a surprise appearance to present De Niro with the excellence in media award. “Robert De Niro… is not gay,” she joked, “So I don’t know why we’re here.” De Niro, accepting his award, responded, “If I were a lesbian, I’d be all over you. Being a father-figure has its limitations.” He added, “She didn’t hesitate to be here tonight for me and for GLAAD… after I threatened her.”

De Niro went on to give a silly, if not somewhat baffling, acceptance speech where he quipped about his “plight,” and losing roles to people like Michael B. Jordan, John Boyega, Nathan Lane and even his “Joy” co-star Lawrence. “It’s not easy being a straight white guy,” De Niro joked.

Caitlyn Jenner also arrived to accept an award for outstanding TV journalism — newsmagazine for her ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, who was also in attendance. “I have been trashed in the tabloids for years,” Jenner said. “Our community does not deserve to be down here — trashed and mocked in the tabloids. Our community deserves to be up here — we are here, we are people, we are human beings.”

Upon presenting Carey with the ally award, Lee Daniels made it known: “Mariah is one of us,” he said. “I know many celebrities that pretend to be one of us. This bitch is one of us. To the marrow.”

Carey opened her acceptance speech with some concern. “I was a little nervous about tonight because I had to learn a whole new alphabet,” she began. The diva then proceeded to take charge by reworking LGBTQ into a new acronym: L – Legendary; G – Gorgeous; B – Beautiful; T – Tantalizing; Q – Quality.

The pop icon’s presence had the audience on its feet before the ceremony officially began when Alex Newell (“Glee”) performed “Hero.” Carey led the standing ovation and blew kisses from the audience. “Fun Home” stars Emily Skeggs and Kally Duling drew laughs for their performance of “Changing My Major” from the Tony Award-winning musical, and singer Bebe Rexha closed the night with a stripped-down version of “Me, Myself & I.”

The evening included several rousing calls to action for LGBT — and more specifically transgender — equality from GLAAD CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis, transgender actress and advocate Nicole Maines, political commentator Margaret Hoover and the aforementioned “Nashville” and “Friday Night Lights” actress Britton.

“I cannot believe with everything that is going on in the world right now, that this is what our conversation is,” Britton told Variety before the awards show. “It is astonishing.”

In the end, the organization broke its $200,000 fundraising goal. After the awards concluded, guests filed over to the after-party, which featured several photo booths and a live DJ. ABC newswoman Sawyer and “Empire” co-creator Daniels stuck around by the exit, trading compliments, surrounded by a posse that included musical star Jussie Smollett.

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