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COMMENTARY: Finding inspiration at GLAAD Media Awards

Random thoughts from the 23rd annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles, held Saturday night in a packed ballroom at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites ...

I am always inspired and emotionally moved by the people we meet and the stories shared during the ceremony.

Like listening to the heartbreaking story of Tim and Tracy Rodemeyer (accompanied by their daughter Alyssa), who spoke about the 14-year-old son, Jamey, who was a victim of anti-gay bullying and who killed himself not long after posting a video in support of the It Gets Better project. His idol, Lady Gaga, would dedicate a song in the memory of one of her “Little Monsters.” The Rodemeyers vowed to always work for equality for all, to keep their son’s memory alive. Audience members were wiping away tears …

Like hearing from Jennifer Tyrell, a mother from my home state of Ohio, who was unceremoniously drummed out as a Boys Scout leader because she is a lesbian. Tyrell brought her partner, Alicia, and their four children to the ceremony. During her touching speech, she encouraged the audience members to take out their smart phones and sign her Change.org petition calling for the Boy Scouts to end its ban on LGBT Scouts and Scout leaders. Many people in the audience immediately answered her call ...

Like watching actor/director Benicio del Toro present the Vanguard Award to straight ally and fellow actor Josh Hutcherson for his efforts toward gaining equality for all. The 19-year-old star of the “Hunger Games” and “The Kids Are All Right” is one of the founders of Straight But Not Narrow, an ally organization that fights for LGBT rights. Hutcherson said:

"I want to thank my best friends Avan Jogia, Andre Pochon and Heather Wilk for starting Straight But Not Narrow. It’s an amazing organization. We wanted to create a place where straight people felt safe coming out and saying 'It’s OK to be gay.' And I didn’t know one, so we decided we were going to make one and we have. It’s gaining momentum and it means the world to me. I want to thank GLAAD and everybody tonight who shared their story with us, and really showed us that the work that we’re doing makes a difference. That’s why I’m up here. I’ll make hopefully a million more movies but this is what I want to do with my life, just changing the world and hopefully changing what people think. So, this is to everybody who’s ever had a struggle in life being yourself. I think that the most beautiful thing a human being can do is just be who you are inside. So please, everybody, just be yourselves and encourage everyone else to do the same. Thank you."

Surprise, surprise

GLAAD’s communication guru Rich Ferraro tipped us off that there would be a big surprise at the ceremony, which is something of a tradition in recent years. Nobody I talked to had any clue who the surprise would be.

U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, a Republican from Palm Springs, Calif., was introduced to the audience to present the Stephen F. Kolzak Award to her stepson, Chaz Bono. Mack gave a touching, funny speech about Chaz … then all of a sudden Cher appears. It was an electrifying moment, bringing about an instant roar and a lengthy standing ovation from the adoring crowd. Chaz was clearly as surprised as the audience and wiped away tears from his seat in the ballroom as his bio-mom spoke about their journey together:

"I'm here because Chaz has the most courage of almost anyone I know. The other day I was having a big meltdown (like you do) and Chaz said, 'Are you going to come to the [GLAAD event],' and I went 'Chaz, you know, I'm not doing well right now' and…he texted me and said 'I turned into a very understanding, smart man and you can call on me.' And it made me feel so good, like I could lean on someone. It touched my heart. [dramatic pause, looking directly at Chaz in the audience] You are the most courageous person I know and you really deserve this award, so come up and get this award!"

Special moments like this are seared forever in your memory!

Meeting up with Mary

SDGLN Assistant Editor Morgan M. Hurley and I ran into Rep. Mary Bono Mack in the lobby after the ceremony. We had a few minutes to chat, and Mack graciously talked to us about issues near and dear to her heart.

She is particularly proud of the fact that she and Sonny were the first family members to accept Chaz for who he is.

It was also clear that Mack and Cher have rallied behind him as he has transitioned from Chastity to Chaz. Everybody should be so lucky to have two moms who are so supportive, compassionate and understanding.

Accidental brunch with Washington state Rep. Maureen Walsh

Morgan and I were in the right place at the right time late Sunday morning. We spied Washington state Rep. Maureen Walsh and her lesbian daughter Shauna Walsh eating in the hotel’s lobby dining area and asked if we could say hello. We ended up having brunch with Walsh and her daughter.

Surely you have seen the viral video of Rep. Walsh, a Catholic Republican from Walla Walla, Wash., speaking from the heart on the floor of the state House in support of marriage equality. I was watching live via the Internet, and her emotional speech had me in tears.

I told Walsh how proud I was of her honesty and her bravery at breaking ranks with most members of her caucus, and then asked if I could hug her. She was only happy to oblige. Turns out we are both Buckeyes from the Cincinnati area. Small world, eh?

Walsh is such a wonderful woman. She has no regrets about her speech, and is totally humbled and shocked that the video when viral on the Internet. “I thought viral meant that I had a virus on my computer,” she said, laughing. She learned what a big deal it was when the House Speaker told her that George Takei of “Star Trek” fame had promoted the video of her speech on his popular Facebook page and that she was becoming famous. She began getting email from around the world. “I’ve been invited to speak about homophobia in Poland,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to go there, though.”

The state legislature approved marriage equality, but anti-gay forces are seeking to repeal the law by referendum in November. Walsh said she is hopeful that Washington voters will reject that effort.

Meanwhile, Walsh is also up for re-election in November. She said she is confident that voters won’t punish her for her vote.

Potty mouth or refreshing candor?

The new president of GLAAD gave his first public speech at the media awards on Saturday, and his embrace of blue language set tongues wagging.

Hurley, SDGLN Staff Writer Ben Cartwright and Hale Media Publisher Johnathan Hale kept glancing at the teleprompter at the back of the ballroom and said that Herndon Graddick wasn’t following the script but likely speaking from the heart.

Graddick got extremely personal and told of growing up in Alabama, where he was hiding deep in the closet:

“To be honest with you, I never thought that I would tell another person that I was gay. When I realized I was gay, I was 13 and, honestly, the first thing I thought to myself was: 'Oh sh*t.' ... I pretended to be straight and I had a plan if I was ever to be found out. As sad as it is to say, what I was going to do was get drunk and drive my car into a tree.”

Such candor is rare among leaders of major LGBT organizations. It is refreshing that Graddick got real, instead of embracing political correctness. My own story sounds much like his, not having met a gay person until I got to college.

Graddick said he didn’t realize until adulthood that what society had taught him while growing up was “essentially bullsh*t” …

“I got pissed. Kids across the country are making themselves miserable and frankly, leading themselves to the brink of suicide because of the bullsh*t they learned from a bigoted society. And it's the role of GLAAD to fix that.

“The new GLAAD is going on the offensive and not just sitting back and waiting for somebody to say something negative about us but really fighting back. I'm grateful to have this opportunity and this job because I think, for once, we can really change the way that LGBT people live their lives across the country. ... We're making a difference.”

Media partnership

Some things you might not know about SDGLN.

SDGLN is a media partner with GLAAD, and was a gold media partner along with SD PIX for the 23rd annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles.

Other media partners include HuffPost Gay Voices, Gay San Diego, San Diego Uptown News, The BottomLine magazine in Palm Springs, FlawLes, Lavender Lens, GayTravel.com, Discover SD, Hillcrest Business Association and Best Gay Cities.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.

Photo caption: From left, Ben Cartwright, Johnathan Hale and Ken Williams.