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Los Angeles Stands 'United FORlando' with Emotional Tribute Concert

Los Angeles Stands 'United FORlando' with Emotional Tribute Concert

Los Angeles Gay Mens Chorus
Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus performs at FORlando benefit

It was a night of catharsis and conversation as the Los Angeles LGBT Center held an emotional benefit for the victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando and their loved ones. 

As LGBT people and allies around the country continue to mourn the 49 people killed during the Pulse massacre in Orlando, many are looking for ways to support the people directly affected -- most of whom were LGBT and Latino.

Saturday night, the Los Angeles LGBT Center made its own contribution to that effort, hosting a benefit concert at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts fittingly called United FORlando.

Tears flowed freely both onstage and in the audience, as the crowd gave thunderous applause and several standing ovations to performances by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, the L.A. cast of Hit the Wall, and a sing-along performance of Broadway For Orlando's "What the World Needs Now" by Kristen Bell, Wilson Cruz, Marissa Jaret Winokur, and Our Lady J.

Cruz, the out actor and former GLAAD spokesman arguably best known for his role as Rickie Vasquez in My So-Called Life, spoke powerfully about his connection to the Pulse shooting.

In a conversation with The Advocate, Cruz opened up about the loss of his aunt, Brenda Marquez-McCool, who was at Pulse with her newly out gay son on the morning of July 12. When the gunman opened fire, the mother of 11 shielded her son's body with her own. Her son survived, but Marquez-McCool did not.

"I think about Brenda every day," Cruz said. "I think about the fact that she was the mother of an LGBT person that everybody wants. She's was there to enjoy with her son, be there with him when he could be his best self," he added, tearing up.

Then Cruz offered an unfiltered reflection on his experience as a gay man of color who has spent most of his adult life in the spotlight

"I do have a public persona, and there's an element of society that seems to be interested in that," Cruz acknowledged. "I have privilege because of that." Even so, Cruz says that when he goes to a nightclub that isn't focused on Latino people, or into a Latino bar that isn't outwardly gay, he finds himself getting nervous.

"I feel like the minute I walk in, it's like I am asking for permission to be there," he said. "And if I feel that way, then how must someone else, who doesn't have my privilege, feel? We, as Latinx LGBT people, are continuously trying to find a place where we feel at home, and that has to stop. ... We have to start walking into any room and feeling as welcome as much as anybody else."

"My hope is that because of this tragedy and act of violence that some of us stand up and start talking about those issues," Cruz said.

That's exactly what Cruz did during Saturday's event, where he moderated a discussion called "After Orlando: Reflections and Where We Go From Here."

Featuring Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Darrel Cummings, chief of staff at the L.A. LGBT Center, the conversation tackled the subject of discrimination head on.

Kendell, keeping in tone with the night, urged the people to realize that "we have had enough." She mentioned not only the victims of the Orlando massacre, but also folks of color who'd lost their lives in the last few months. Her plea continued, "Being willing to feel ...really is the way to finding our way out."

Kristen Bell FORlando

The closing performance of the night echoed the community's sense of resilience, a moving rendition of Broadway for Orlando's song, "What the World Needs Now." All the proceeds from the sale of the track, which is available online through Broadway Records, are being donated to the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida in Orlando.

Actor and LGBT ally Kristen Bell (pictured above), who led the ensemble performance and audience sing-along Saturday night, said the sentiment behind the song is simple.

"I suppose the mood, while we were setting it up, particularly by Seth (Rudetsky), was very matter of fact," she said. "This is what needs to be done. This is our response. It was about personal responsibility. The Broadway community happens to have higher numbers of LGBTQ [-identified people]. Those are our people. That's our family. So, it was very matter of fact about personal responsibility."

The night ended on a bittersweet note, with hope for a better future and memory of a terrible past.

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Aashna Malpani