Tinseltown’s LGBT community faced a not unfamiliar predicament on Wednesday night, when not one but two star-studded soirées celebrated the legacy of LGBT characters on screen: which to attend? While Portia de Rossi, Eric Stonestreet and Jason Collins hiked up to Skirball for the Paley Center’s fête, a familial feeling crowd gathered at Vibiana downtown to honor Hilary Swank, Armistead Maupin and Levi Strauss & Co. at the Outfest Legacy Awards.
Dan Bucatinsky, Aubrey Plaza and Alan Poul were just a few of the guests that filled the cathedral-cum-culinary hot spot, where Chef Neal Fraser served up an intricate menu by both gala standards and by any standards – goodbye rubber chicken, hello grilled salmon and leek fondue.
Lee Daniels, Lily Tomlin and Bruce Cohen were among those on the host committee for the dinner, which raised funds for the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, which promotes the preservation and restoration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender moving image media.
While half the conspicuously male dominated crowd arrived wearing the perennial sport coat (more Dolce & Gabbana than Brooks Brothers, to be sure), a sizable segment gleefully heeded the call to ditch the suit and don “cocktail chic with a denim twist” in celebration of Levi Strauss & Co., the recipient of the Guardian Award.
Armistead Maupin, who was bestowed with the Visionary Award on the 20th anniversary of his “Tales of the City” miniseries, gave a rousing tribute to the brand after accepting his award.
“When I put on a pair of Levi’s, they’re that second skin,” he said. “And the weird thing is, I’m deeply sincere. I can’t imagine another corporate entity that I could get up here and say these things about.”
“Levi’s has an amazing tradition, not just in terms of the treatment of their LGBT employees,” he said, referring to the brand being the first Fortune 500 company to offer domestic partner benefits, “ but what they stood for in the world.”
And from rousing to arousing, Maupin went on to share a titillating story of Basic Plumbing, one of Hollywood’s storied gay bathhouses (or as he put it for the younger attendees, “Grindr in a plywood box”). He recalled “enjoying himself thoroughly in one of those cubicles with someone else in another cubicle,” then emerging to discover it was a Warner Bros. producer he’d met with for a potential “Tales of the City” deal.
“When we realized who each other were, he said, ‘We’ve got to have lunch,’” Maupin explained. “And I said, ‘I thought we just did.’”
Several of the presenters seized on the opportunity to make an especially salacious joke or two to the congregation, delighting in the sacrilege of doing so in a converted cathedral. In a crowd that worships St. Madonna over St. Vibiana, no stone went unturned.
“I worried I wasn’t gay enough to host,” said Natasha Lyonne, the evening’s chief priestess. “But then I looked at my IMDb page. My IMDb page is so gay, it should be sponsored by Olivia Cruises. My IMDb page is so gay, it has its own Grindr profile. It’s gotten to the point where they won’t even finance an indie film without Natasha Lyonne playing a lesbian in it. I want to take this opportunity to say to all of you, I’m sorry and thank you for my career.”
— natasha lyonne (@nlyonne) November 13, 2014
But for all the naughty nonsense, much of the night was also devoted to the sincere memory and celebration of some of the most challenging and enduring moments in LGBT screen history. “Tales of the City” cast members Mary Kay Place, Billy Campbell and Laura Linney all paid emotional tribute (the latter two verging on tears) to Maupin for his enduring books and miniseries.
And in accepting Outfest’s inaugural Trailblazer Award, Swank gave deeply earnest thanks and tribute to Brandon Teena, the real trans man she portrayed in the career-making “Boys Don’t Cry” 15 years ago.
“My closing message remains the same as that of my Academy Award speech,” she said. “Let Brandon Teena’s legacy remind us to always be ourselves, to follow our hearts, to not conform. And let us continue telling stories like this so that one day we’ll not only accept our differences, but actually celebrate our diversity.”