“Queer Eye” stars Karamo Brown and Bobby Berk were among the many who came out to support Saturday night’s Hearts of Gold concert at the Greek Theater, a celebration the 50th anniversary of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
But the topic inevitably turned to their costar Jonathan Van Ness, who came out as HIV+ and a survivor of sexual abuse earlier in the day in an interview with The New York Times.
“We’ve been there supporting him around this decision that he had to make,” Berk told Variety. “We’re just so happy that he feels supported today. It’s been a positive thing. People are having a good reaction to it. And that’s all that we can hope for — that he’s happy and feels supported.”
Brown drew a connection between Van Ness and the LGBT Center. “As Bobby talked about: Jonathan is doing exactly what the center does,” said Brown, who worked there with kids in need of positive role models for seven years. “And what we try to promote on ‘Queer Eye,’ which is letting people know: ‘You’re not alone. And that if I can make it, you can make it, too.’”
Center CEO Lorri L. Jean opened the evening with a speech about the center’s history and fight for LGBTQ rights. “Every human being deserves freedom, justice and equality, dignity respect and love, acceptance, health and happiness and that is what your center is fighting for and what we’ve spent 50 years building,” she said.
Brown was a social worker at the center for seven years before becoming a “Queer Eye” star. “I know first-hand what it is like for kids who come here — because if they don’t have any support, they feel lost, like their life is over. And this group of people rally around them and say, ‘We love you.’”
The cause also resonates on a personal level with Berk. “I used to be a homeless youth and I didn’t have a center with a support system,” he told Variety. “This was in Missouri — the Bible belt. I left home at a very young age [because] I was in a town where coming out was not an option. And so instead of ending my life, I chose to live — even if that meant being homeless. For kids to have a center like this to go to for support, to get housing, to get educational assistance? It’s important to me because I didn’t have it.”
Valentina, one of the breakout stars from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” who went on to co-star in the TV musical “Rent: Live,” pointed out the lack of representation for the community’s gender non-conforming members.
“There needs to be more examples of queer visibility,” she told Variety. “People that are non-binary deserve to have their own lane. You don’t have to fit in a box — just create your own.” As a native Angeleno, Valentina has relied on the center as a resource for healthcare. “Oh, honey, I am a sexual creature,” she said. “I go to get tested all the time. You gotta know your [HIV] status. And I thank the LGBT Center for making me feel really comfortable.”
Added Rufus Wainwright: “I’ve lived through several really dark periods in the gay male community, and the LGBT Center has always been there on the battle front ready to help us — with no questions asked and no judgements — just to keep us alive and well and loved.”
Since this evening was a celebration of the community’s history as well as its diversity, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda took the stage to reflect on the significance of five decades of service to LGBTQ people.
“50 years of queer!” shouted Fonda. “Oh, God, Lily — what I wouldn’t give to be 50 again.” A black and white photo of Harvey Milk, the first gay elected official in California, sharing a laugh with Fonda flashed on an overhead screen, which proved that much like the center, she’s always been there for the community. Milk had requested Fonda’s assistance to fight a ballot measure attempting to ban gay teachers; it was defeated in November of 1978, but the iconic politician was murdered later that same month.
“Harvey was the most fantastic human being,” Fonda said. “He loved life so much.”
As it turns out, Valentina wasn’t wearing the biggest wig at the event: That distinction goes to queer pop star Sia, who kicked off the night’s concert with a pair of songs along with an interpretive dance from Maddie Ziegler. Other highlights included Wainwright channeling gay icon Judy Garland by belting out “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and a surprise performance from Melissa Etheridge, who treated the crowd to her hits “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One.”