For Kelly Ripa, winning GLAAD’s Excellence in Media Award was “kind of odd.” In a speech that brought thunderous applause to the Waldorf Astoria last weekend, Ripa, host of ABC’s Live! with Kelly and Michael, told the audience that her award was recognition that she simply “[treats] people like people.”
“It’s kind of odd, in a way, that I should be given an award based on the fact that I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by, loved by and influenced by this community my entire life,” she said. “Or, quite frankly, that I should be celebrated for treating people like people.”
Indeed, Ripa, who executive produces Logo TV’s Secret Guide to Fabulous with her husband Mark Consuelos, was honored to have been awarded for her years of LGBT advocacy. “It’s the biggest thrill of my life,” she told Variety. “Besides the birth of my children, it’s the most important thing that’s happened to me.” Her children have been raised in a household not only accepting of gay people, but filled with them, as well. CNN host Anderson Cooper, a close friend of Ripa’s, presented her the award, and she playfully teased his good looks before praising the openly gay newsman for the visibility he brings to the LGBT community.
“Because of people like you, there are people out there that look up to you that are able to be proud of who they are,” she said. “On a personal note, I just want to thank you and Benjamin [Cooper’s partner] for being such extraordinary friends, exceptional friends. You’re such a fine example for my family, my children in particular. I feel like my kids are better people because they have you and Benjamin in their lives. Seriously, I love you.”
While Ripa’s win affirmed her status as an LGBT ally, for MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, winning GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award for promoting LGBT equality seemed a form of vindication for a daring decision made nine years ago.
In 2006, Roberts — who was working for CNN at the time — told the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in Miami that he was gay. It was an uneasy decision for a man unsure whether his sexuality would impact his career. At the time, he was cable news’ only out gay anchor. “Coming out wasn’t without its missteps and major learning lessons,” he said. “But after every storm, you can hope for a rainbow — or in my case, a colorful peacock.”
It was a nod to Roberts’ position at MSNBC, where he hosts Live with Thomas Roberts. It is his weekly Out There segment, however, that helped secure his award. A roundup of all things LGBT, Roberts has used Out There to talk frankly about his own struggles with growing up gay, including contemplating suicide, something he referenced during an emotional speech.
“When I was growing up, I was burdened with the feelings of thinking that I was less than because I knew I was gay,” he said. “I was hopeless and because of a culmination of events surrounding my sexuality at the age of 15, I attempted to take my life. But my sister saved my life. People like me were considered immoral at best, a joke and the option of being out meant being an outcast. Sadly, that’s how my mind worked then.”
Unfortunately, for Kristene Chapa, it wasn’t suicide that affected her life, but the actions of a hateful individual. In 2012, Chapa and her girlfriend, Mollie Olgin, were shot execution-style in a park in southern Texas. While Chapa survived, Olgin was pronounced dead at the scene. When Chapa took to the stage Saturday night at GLAAD’s 26th annual Media Awards, she received a standing ovation — the first of many during her speech.
For three years, Chapa has endured physical and occupational therapy. She lost function in her left arm, but is slowly working to regain it, and recovered from a traumatic head injury. She’s working with a writer to tell her story and has become a beacon of resilience in the face of extreme hate for the LGBT community. Chapa, however, only wants for one thing.
“I just wish Mollie was here,” she said. “She would have loved to see all of this, all the support from everyone.”
However, Chapa has been able to draw some positives from her experience, stating that the shooting “[is] a tragedy, but it also brings a lot of people together, and shows all the great people out there that’s willing to help and have good hearts. It’s hard to be gay in south Texas, but I believe that God loves everybody, no matter if you’re gay or straight.”
In between emotional speeches and a moving cover of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” by out country star Ty Herndon, GLAAD presented numerous honours to various news outlets, publications and journalists for their contributions to LGBT representation in media.
John Oliver’s fledgling HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver scored a win for Outstanding Talk Show Episode, thanks to an incredible interview with Pepe Julian Onziema, a Ugandan gay rights activist who detailed the various atrocities and hardships faced by the country’s LGBT population. MSNBC collected an award for TV journalism thanks to its “Fired for Being Gay?” segment. TIME’s landmark cover story “The Transgender Tipping Point,” featuring transgender actress Laverne Cox, won for Outstanding Magazine article, while Sports Illustrated won for overall magazine coverage, with out athletes Michael Sam and Jason Collins accepting the award. Lilting, a film about a mother and her son’s lover as they each deal with the son’s death, won for Outstanding Limited Release (in our four-star review we called it “a deeply moving examination of being lost in translation”).
While GLAAD’s awards have been criticized as unnecessary, they still serve as an important reminder of how far journalism and media have come in representing LGBT people — and, indeed, of how far we have come as a community.
“The LGBT community has led the way in treating people like people,” Ripa stated. “Oftentimes, those who are the most discriminated against are the most empathetic and the most inclusive. Quite frankly, I should be giving this award to all of you.”
Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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