By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com October 09 2012 7:07 PM ET
Honoree-2012 Inspiration Award Matt Bomer, Michael Patrick King and Honoree-2012 Inspiration Award Simon Halls.
At the eighth annual GLSEN Respect Awards, movie stars and high school students walked side by side down the Beverly Hills Hotel red carpet. The occasion, which honored Matt Bomer and his partner Simon Hall, shone a Hollywood spotlight on the systemic problems facing American schools, and the LGBT youth working to enact change.
While the Student Ambassadors expressed awe of their company ("I can’t believe I’m standing next to Amy Adams!" one gushed), it was ultimately the celebrities — among them Octavia Spencer, Jim Parsons, Chely Wright, Willie Garner, Wilson Cruz, and Joe Manganiello — who rose to applaud the fresh-faced advocates. Inspired, many of them recalled their own growing pains.
“I came from a small town, and grew up next to the same 33 kids kindergarten through 12th grade in one building. Everybody knew everything about everybody,” said singer Chely Wright, standing alongside her wife on the red carpet. “I took a lot of crap I didn’t have to take, for fear of being outed.”
Chely Wright arrives at the 8th Annual GLSEN Respect Awards held at Beverly Hills Hotel.
“It’s hard when you’re a kid, right?” Wright continued. “But it underscores the fact that those of us who are safe and able, those of us with jobs and mortgages, we have to remember what it feels like to be a kid. We have to remember to go back to those communities and do our best to change those environments so they don’t have to step up every day.”
Actor Wilson Cruz, who portrayed troubled gay teen Rickie Vasquez on the cult television show My So-Called Life, echoed this sentiment, and drew parallels between his own life and the struggles of his character. One episode, in which Rickie is kicked out of his parents’ home for being gay, is based on Cruz’s real-life experience.
“My So-Called Life was basically my life in high school,” said Cruz. “My advice for closeted kids hasn’t changed in 18 years. The only reason to come out as a young person is if you feel safe at home and safe at school. If you feel there’s any possibility of you being harmed, or left out on the street, without a means to support yourself, then it’s not the time to come out. Your job is to become educated and self-sufficient, so that one day you can come out as an adult.”
Student Ambassadors Brandon Serpas, Eli Erlicks, Amelia Roskin-Frazee, Dr. Eliza Byard, Camille Stovall, Carly Freders and Jeremy Brown.
GLSEN works to provide all children with this safe environment and education. But the obstacles are many. According to a 2011 National Climate Survey, eight out of 10 LGBT students experienced some form of harassment in the previous year. Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose wife Marilyn is a former teacher, took a hard line on this pervasive bullying.
“There’s nothing more important than starting out with a safe environment,” said Katzeneberg. “Bullying has become a very scary and real issue for most kids. It doesn’t matter if it’s sexuality, or obesity, or almost anything. Kids can be tough on kids. And what this organization does is it works hard to create a safe environment, through awareness and education, and through shining a spotlight, like what we’re doing tonight.”
Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, specifically cites chronic underfunding and a lack of counseling as the most pressing issues facing American schools today.
“The decimation in American education is a threat to the wellbeing of students everywhere,” Byard said. “We have some stark choices ahead of us in how schools are going to be funded and managed. It is critical that we understand, as a community, that our youth will not succeed if we do not invest in how schools work.”
Her message to bullies?
“There’s hope for you, as well.”
See more celebrities at 8th Annual GLSEN Respect Awards on the following pages.
Actresses Clementine Ford and Brittany Ishibashi
Craig Sykes, actress Marsha Thomason, and actor Wilson Cruz
Chief Correspondent for Fandango, Dave Karger, and Michelle Scales of Wells Fargo
Actor Joe Manganiello
TV personality Ross Matthews and partner Salvador Camarena
Actor Jim Parsons
Actress Octavia Spencer and Student Advocate of the Year Luiz Veloz