A theme of the 49th Anniversary Gala Vanguard Awards seemed to be: When the government fails the LGBT community, activists and centers like the Los Angeles LGBT Center will prevail.
Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos hosted the event at the Beverly Hilton, which included an auction to raise money for the world’s largest LGBT organization. The night honored writer, producer, and director Greg Berlanti, former professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, philanthropist Ariadne Getty, and legendary singer and actor Ricky Martin for their work supporting LGBT communities.
During their joint speech, Berlanti and Rogers, who are married, acknowledged the activism by the center and others that has allowed their personal and professional lives to flourish. Berlanti set a record this year with 14 series on air — including CW hits like “Arrow” and “Supergirl” — while Rogers was the first openly gay athlete to play on a championship team in a major league sport. The two welcomed a son via surrogate in 2016, and married in 2017. Rogers acknowledged that while their dream came true, the dreams of other LGBT individuals, women, immigrants, minorities, and people with disabilities are “under assault.”
“Our safety and equality and basic liberties are under threat, now more than ever. There are others, many of them elected officials, who not only don’t want to see advancements for the disenfranchised, they want to take us back to a time when our story wasn’t even possible,” Rogers said.
Lorri L. Jean, the organization’s CEO, gave a rousing speech during which she criticized the current administration for undoing protections for marginalized groups and going “against our hopes and dreams for our people.” But she named accomplishments that the center has been instrumental in helping to achieve, such as defeating the 1978 Briggs Initiative that would have banned LGBT people and allies from working in California schools, selecting LGBT inclusive textbooks for all public California schools, and now the new campus for LGBT youth and seniors set to open in April 2019.
Many of the attendees at the gala said growing up, they could have used services like the ones the center provides, such as medical care, counseling, homeless youth services, and transgender-specific services. Conrad Ricamora, who stars on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” told Variety when he was growing up he did not always practice safe sex because of the stigma attached to being LGBT, and “no one teaches you it’s okay to be who you are, let alone use a condom, get tested.” Similarly, social media star Gigi Gorgeous said when she started going on hormones during her transition, she had to fight for herself because she didn’t have any guidance.
In their joint speech, Berlanti and Rogers also recounted the significant pushback they received in their careers, both from critics and even their own friends. When Rogers came to play for the LA Galaxy, Berlanti said his now-husband had to stop going online because of the hateful comments telling him to “shut up about his sexuality,” and implying he wouldn’t be playing for the team if he was not so public about being gay.
“The entire time Robbie was playing, through all of this, you should know, his reason for doing so never wavered,” Berlanti said. “He wanted LGBT kids to have someone to watch that was like them. He knew the power of representation, because he didn’t have it when he was growing up, isolated and alone.”
Rogers said Berlanti had to fight for diversity on his projects. As actor Nick Robinson said while presenting his “Love, Simon” director with the honor, Berlanti was behind momentous moments on television, from the first romantic kiss between two gay male characters on “Dawson’s Creek” to the first openly gay, African American male and female superheroes on “Arrow” and “Black Lightning.”
With 2018’s “Love, Simon,” friends and coworkers doubted it would be more than a “small, gay movie that might not do any business.” Berlanti also had to defend to his bosses that fans would accept a previously white, straight male hero reimagined as black, female, Latino or trans.
“Greg would they say, ‘What good are these heroes if they don’t look like the world they’re saving?'” Rogers said.
Martin, another honoree, told Variety a pressing issue for him is fighting sex trafficking, and connecting it with the disproportionate numbers of LGBT homeless populations, because “every social issue is interconnected.”
“I work with kids that are forced into prostitution and most or some of these kids are of course, part of the LGBT community. And when I started my foundation 10 years ago, I was not connecting these two,” Martin said during his speech. “My mission is to go to those little towns in Latin America where the word gay is a curse, and [end this].”
Gorgeous, whose fiance Nats Getty presented the honoree award to her mother, Ariadne Getty, said another pressing issue is trans visibility.
“I think right now the most powerful thing for people in Middle America, and just around the world, to see that there are transgender people on TV shows and movies. Laverne Cox did an amazing job for me, and I know she’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” Gorgeous said. “There’s so much cisgender talent, that you should give some transgender people some talent too. Because I think, we are some of the most beautiful and talented people in the world, but I might be a little biased.”