Debra Messing and Don Lemon

The 28th Annual Gay and Lesbian alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards were held at the Hilton Midtown Hotel in Manhattan’s Theater District on Saturday, bringing a bevy of top-level celebrities to the fore in support of the watchdog group’s work.

By Nathan James

The gala, which recognizes excellence in depictions of the LGBTQ community in contemporary film, television, print, and online platforms, took on added meaning this year, amid a charged political climate and a hostile White House administration. “The work of GLAAD has never been more important than it is right now,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis.

Hosted by TV personality Ross Mathews, the ceremony featured onstage performances by DNCE, and a surprise appearance by Rosie O’Donnell who pledged a $100,000 donation to GLAAD. Will & Grace star Debra Messing was honored with an Excellence In Media Award, while out, Tony-Award winning Kinky Boots actor Billy Porter received the Vito Russo Lifetime Award, presented by O’Donnell.

Zachary Quinto, known on the silver screen as Spock in the Star Trek reboot films, joined trans advocate and former People Magazine editor Janet Mock to present Trevor Noah with an Outstanding Talk Show award, for his riveting coverage of transgender issues.

The roster of luminaries appearing among the attendees boasted STRUT series producer Whoopi Goldberg, who presented its cast members, Cecilio “CeCe” Asuncion, Laith De La Cruz, Dominique Jackson, Isis King, Ren Spriggs, and Arisce Wanzer with an Outstanding Reality Series Award.

Other notables included Tyler Oakley, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Angelica Ross, Nico Tortorella, and Survivor’s Zeke Smith. Smith, who was outed as transgender during the filming of that show, recalled, “I was outed on the show by another contestant, but the feedback I’ve received since then has been overwhelmingly positive.

Another presenter, out CNN anchor Don Lemon, underscored the need for the LGBTQ community to live in its truth. “Be out, be visible, be open,” the newsman implored, noting the volatile, homophobic environment that has arisen since Election Day.

Messing, who will reprise her legendary role as Grace in an NBC revival of the iconic series this fall, singled out President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, for criticism from the podium. “It’s not enough to simply say that women’s issues are important to you. It’s time to do something,” Messing stated. “You can change the lives of millions of women and children just by telling your dad stories about real people who are suffering. Don’t let him separate immigrant mothers from their American-born children. Don’t let him take health care away from women who need it. Don’t allow him to make trans kids like Gavin [Grimm] fight in court for their basic human dignity.

Grimm, a transgender junior in a Gloucester, Va., high school who successfully sued for the right to use the restroom consistent with his gender identity, said of the White House’s recent reversal of Obama-era protections for trans students, “I feel it’s terrible that the Trump administration would deny transgender students their dignity“.

Ross Mathews
Zachary Quinto
Whoopi Goldberg
Don Lemon

Rosie O’Donnell was more direct in her approach to the president, texting “F*ck you, Trump. From the gays. Sent!” from the stage, to wild applause. “I’m still vertical after Satan won,” the comedienne said, “That to me is a major accomplishment for someone who suffers from major depressive disorder.”

Billy Porter, who sang from the stage to a standing ovation, called Trump’s actions against LGBTQ Americans “an attack on all of us”, and urged the crowd to remember the progress made thus far. “From slavery to emancipation, to the 13th Amendment, to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement, from Stonewall to AIDS, to Marriage Equality – remember whose shoulders we stand on. Let’s use the historical strides we’ve made as a nation to empower us as warriors on this battlefield for equality.

You can see the complete listing of GLAAD Media Award winners and more at the official GLAAD website.