“Who gets to stand for something and still make people laugh and feel something at the same time?” said “Glee” star Alex Newell on the carpet at Saturday night’s Family Equality Council awards dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The answer? The casts of “Glee” and “Modern Family,” both honored at the event for doing just that.
At the 11th annual awards dinner, the Family Equality Council honored the two series for their impact in advancing cultural conversation about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender questioning) families, and also paid tribute to Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, Texas, and the brand Honey Maid, for their “This Is Wholesome” campaign.
Sandra Bernhard hosted the event, opening the evening with a performance alongside her band, and telling stories riffing on her daughter. The dinner – part fundraiser, part celebration – shed light on LGBTQ families and the work being done to grant them and their children full legal rights. Andrew Rannells, Patti LuPone, Sarah Paulson and Lance Bass were just some of the attendees.
“I no longer go around saying that there is no such thing as a ‘gay agenda,’ because there is a gay agenda,” said Mayor Parker in accepting the honor presented to her by fellow Texan Matt Bomer. Parker, the first LGBTQ mayor of Houston, was honored for her work improving her city and for speaking up for LGBTQ rights. “The ‘gay agenda’ is to be able to attend school safely without fear of bullying…to be able to serve proudly in the U.S. military…to be able to work openly and pay taxes. The gay agenda is to be able to raise our children lovingly with the full protection of the United States.”
“I have three stepdaughters, and I don’t want them to hurt a day in their life,” said “Glee” actress Dot-Marie Jones. The actress recently wrapped an impactful transgender storyline on “Glee” that called attention to the emotional challenge of transitioning from female to male. “I hate the word ‘acceptance,’ because who the hell is anybody to accept anybody?”
“Everything we do is through education, through a laugh,” added Newell on how shows like “Glee” and “Modern Family” make a difference. “We’re teaching society that not everyone is the same, and people are different, and their voices have to be heard, too.”
Such was the basis of Honey Maid’s “This Is Wholesome” campaign. The campaign’s first ad featured a variety of families, from gay dads to a straight couple, to an interracial couple and a single father. When the spot drew backlash, the company replied with a stronger message.
“The entire team that helped bring the ‘This Is Wholesome’ campaign to life felt tremendously privileged to create content that truly resonated with so many,” said Jonathan Mekeel who accepted the honor.
In addition to moving speeches and presentations from families, explaining the challenges they have gone through and how the Familiy Equality Council has helped them, the crowd was treated to a performance by Maxine Nightingale that got the audience on their feet – Bernhard could be seen in the crowd, raising excitement – and to an entertaining auction for a walk-on role in the upcoming season of “American Horror Story,” led by Sarah Paulson and “Glee’s” Darren Criss.
In total, the Family Equality Council raised $618,430 to help support their efforts at the event.
“TV usually reflects the world, rarely does TV change the world,” said “New Girl” actor Max Greenfield in presenting the awards to “Modern Family” and “Glee” creators Steven Levitan and Ryan Murphy. “Ironically, it was comedy that helped rectify the tragedy of reality, by showing LGBTQ families to be oh-so normal.
“With one treating us to a wedding between two men and the other, just last week, staging a mass gay wedding – the Republic somehow survived,” said Greenfield, “with no rioting in the streets and no breakdown of civil order.”
With the two shows’ combined 107 Emmy nominations announced, a moving clip reel was played of “Modern Family’s” Mitch and Cam, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, and the romances between “Glee’s” Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss), and Brittany (Heather Morris) and Santana (Naya Rivera).
“Thank you for deciding to honor us before ‘Empire’ premiered,” joked Levitan taking the stage. He remarked that when he and co-creator Chris Lloyd began working on the show seven years ago, they knew that they “couldn’t do a show called ‘Modern Family’ without a gay couple raising a child.”
Mitch and Cam have since become a symbol of what a real family looks like, with the two far more concerned about getting their daughter into the right school than they are about going to the hottest nightclub.
“We’ve heard from so many gay teens who have said they feel comfortable coming out because their parents ‘loved Mitch and Cam,’” said Levitan. “We are very proud to be on the right side of history, and to have played even a tiny role in the honorable task of getting some close-minded a–holes to shut the f— up.”
“I have always believed in the ideology of one of my friends and idols, Norman Lear, that the way to acceptance is understanding,” said Murphy. “You have to see it, experience it in your own house and life to empathize.”
Murphy took a moment to mention the notes he used to receive on scripts, all essentially asking that he tone down gay characters. “I’m happy to say that I no longer get notes like this,” he said. “And I’m happy to say that the executives who gave me those notes are no longer employed.”
He praised executives like Dana Walden and Michael Lombardo, who “fought the good fight 100% of the time,” and told him, “Do it, write it, don’t change it. Be bold. That’s the only way things are going to change.”
“On ‘Glee’ we really did try to entertain, and we really did try to make it easier for the next generation, and pave the way for them,” he said.
To close the evening, Alex Newell brought the house down with a performance of “I Will Survive,” before being joined by “Glee” cast members Lea Michele, Darren Criss, Chord Overstreet, Jenna Ushkowitz, Harry Shum and Becca Tobin for a rendition of “Dancing Queen,” capping off the night’s disco theme, as well as “Glee” staple song “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
(Pictured: Abraham Higginbotham, Ryan Murphy and Steven Levitan)