By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com September 28 2009 6:25 PM ET

Fresh from winning an Emmy for her portrayal of President Allison Taylor on the hit TV series 24, actress Cherry Jones has another award to add to her mantle -- this time for who she is, not who she plays.

The
Point Foundation, the nation's largest scholarship-granting
organization for LGBT students, gave the Point Courage Award to Jones
at its annual benefit held on September 26 at the Hollywood Renaissance
Hotel in Los Angeles.

"In addition to being one of the most
respected actresses in her profession, Cherry Jones has lived her life
unapologetically as an out lesbian and is a shining example of courage
to all individuals fighting for equality. More importantly, Ms. Jones
gives hope to young people everywhere, including our Point Scholars,"
said Jorge Valencia, executive director of
the Point Foundation.

“It’s humbling beyond words,” says Jones
of accepting the award at the Point Honors Benefit, “because I hadn’t
heard of the Point Foundation until I got the call that I was being
honored -- I don’t know where I’ve been. I may be a Johnny-come-lately, but I plan to be at [the Point Foundation’s] beck and call for the rest of my days.”

As
Jones learned more about Point, which often helps LGBT students
who have been kicked out of their homes, the nonprofit’s mentor program
stood out. “The mentors really do try to encourage the kids to keep
trying to engage with their families, which to me is almost the most
important thing that a mentor can do for a gay person who has been
shunned by their family,” says the two-time Tony winner. “The most
empowering thing is to persevere: They’ve given up on you, but that
doesn’t mean you have to give up on them.”

Jones also hopes to
become a mentor herself. “My problems is I’m in seven different cities.
... I’d really like to [mentor]; I’m almost old enough where I think I
could,” says the 52-year-old actress.









LILY TOMLIN CHERRY JONES POINT FOUNDATION X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM

The red-carpet gala -- also attended by actors Swoosie Kurtz, Michael Emerson (Lost), Carrie Preston (True Blood), and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) -- gave Jones a chance to meet Point Scholars, who shared their stories
with some 350 attendees about how Point changed their lives.

“Each
of their stories is so compelling and so charismatic,” says Jones.
“They must have such will and such a responsibility to have made it
this far as students and as scholars. I can’t wait to meet them … I’m
dying to meet a scholar.”

Actress Lily Tomlin presented Jones
with her award, and as it turns out, the two have a long history.





“When
I was 19 years old [Tomlin] did a concert near my college in Pittsburgh -- this was in about 1977,” says Jones. “She was hosting a fund-raiser
for the defense fund for a known lesbian on the faculty of the
University of Pittsburgh who was being denied tenure because of her
sexuality.”

Jones says she and some friends buddied up with
Tomlin’s tour manager to meet Tomlin after the show.

“We took her to a
park, and we played in the snow till about 1:30 in the morning,” says
Jones. “It was 15 degrees outside; there was about a foot of snow … We
had the best time in the world. And I never saw her again until she
came into my dressing room after a play I was doing in New York.”

Through
auctions and donations, the Point Honors Benefit raised close to
$300,000 for the foundation. Also during the ceremony, Motorola
received the Point Inspiration Award for their corporate inclusion of LGBT people.