Point Foundation Honors Thomas Roberts, Uzo Aduba, Dustin Lance Black
By David Artavia
This month the Point Foundation brought in nearly 400 guests to New York's Plaza Hotel to recognize those who've demonstrated leadership and courage as role models for LGBT young people.
The evening raised much-needed funds for Point’s higher education scholarships as well as mentoring and leadership programs. As the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBT students of merit, Point currently supports a total of 84 young people. Soon it will add 20 to 25 via its new scholar class.
MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts received the Point Impact Award; he was introduced by CNN’s Don Lemon. The award goes to a person who has contributed significantly to improving the LGBT community. Upon receiving the award, Roberts said, “I decided long ago that a successful professional life and a successful personal life didn't need to be mutually exclusive. That’s what I truly have wanted for younger people. I firmly believe we can all have an impact when we just show up and remain honest.”
Emmy Award-winning actress Uzo Aduba was presented the Point Courage Award, after being introduced by Hamilton’s Javier Muñoz. This award recognizes those who have advocated for the future of the LGBT community and believe investing in today’s potential will produce a brighter tomorrow. Aduba said to the crowd, “I want you to know that each of you is a member of my chosen family and that every single day — so long as I have breath in my lungs — I choose to fight for your cause, to stand beside you, and serve as a reminder that we see you.”
Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was recognized with the Point Leadership Award, which was accepted by Richard Socarides, who served as a special assistant and LGBT adviser in the Clinton White House, since Black wasn’t able to travel to New York for the event due to U.K. visa regulations that would affect his upcoming marriage to British Olympic diver Tom Daley.
In an acceptance video, Black said, “Until we have increased understanding and dispel the myths, the stereotypes, and the fears around being an LGBTQ person in this world, we must have safety nets like Point Foundation to take care of our young people.”
Point receives around 2,000 applications for about 20 slots each year, said executive director and CEO Jorge Valencia. The winners are selected based on three criteria: academics, leadership, and need, which can be either financial or emotional, Valencia said.
The evening was hosted by comedian Emma Willmann, with featured performances by Matt Doyle and Emily Skeggs, and additional celebrity participants including Bob the Drag Queen, Ivory Aquino, Michelle Collins, Gideon Glick, Taylor Louderman, Denis O’Hare, Zuri Marley, Ashley Park, Charles Socarides, Valerie Smaldone, Peter Staley, and Nico Tortorella. The Advocate caught up with some of the attendees to ask them about the importance of mentorship, community, and how we can build it. On the following pages, read what they had to say.
Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation
“More than ever, community is important now,” Valencia told The Advocate. “I think that over the last few years, we haven’t gotten complacent, but I think we got very comfortable with the fact that we were moving in a particular direction. And for many young people who grew up with Obama, all of a sudden they started to see some of that [LGBT] progress stripped away from them. They’re relying on their community, on our community, to bolster them and get them to the next level. I think if ever there was a need to fight among ourselves but to stay firm and close with other groups, now is the time.”
When asked who his greatest mentor was, Valencia had to revisit his years at the White House:
“I worked for President Clinton, and I came out when I joined the administration and my boss, Erskine Bowles [who eventually became White House chief of staff], was a straight ally and he taught me an awful lot. The one thing I learned the most from him was this: He said, ‘You can never expect people to “get it.” You have to say something.’ I probably was a little more shy than I should have been, and I learned pretty quickly.”
Community is something Uzo Aduba knows very well.
“I come from an African tribe ideology: ‘It takes a village,’” she explained. “And it is not, we are not here to be in service of just ourselves or one person alone. It takes everyone in that village to raise a child. The LGBT community, whether it’s through want or force, has had to be that village for themselves, and to raise themselves in some capacity. That’s the easiest and fastest way to build a community. I’ve been watching that expansion happen more and more, a lot of cross bridging as well.”
She continued: “There was a time in this culture where having labels were important and necessary, to be a queer identifier, so that you stand loud and proud, and that you aren’t afraid to be yourself. I think now we are hopefully pushing through a space and time where the idea of queer, straight, trans, lesbian, gay, bi, whatever other label we put on, has been normalized to a point where we don’t have to use those identifiers with the same weight, that we actually see people for who they are.”
Seeing as April is Stress Awareness Month, we asked Aduba what her strategy is to de-stress. Turns out, she likes going to bed, which she calls a sanctuary: “I like to stay in my bed, mellow, squish in the pillow with my dog, and just chill out.”
“Community is really important,” Roberts said. “It gives you a place of foundation and roots, and for so many of us in the LGBT community, we don’t have those types of family custodians to know and show us the way. [Having] a community to give you advice and help you through tough times is very important.”
He continued, “I think debate is really important, and whether that’s happening in the LGBT community or outsiders looking in, it’s healthy, it’s positive. We’ve certainly made strides in social advances that are very important. I don’t think we should be worried that we’re going to deconstruct any of the important work we’ve done by talking about it. That being said, it would be nice to actually have great dialogue with less heated passions that stem from a place of fear, and I think that’s where most people are coming from — a place of fear. It’s a new normal and it makes people uncomfortable, growing pains and all.”
A trailblazing journalist, Roberts came out as gay in 2006. In his own life, he credits the Point Foundation as being a place to nourish mentorship.
“[I’ve had] tremendous mentors, not only within the community but my own family,” he said. “Certain figures in Point Foundation, David Mixner, Herb Hamsher, Judith Light, that have been incredible guides and scholars over the years, I can say they’re my inspiration and I’m very intimidated by them because they’re really smart.”
As far as how he de-stresses: "One of the things I got into over the last year is meditating. I have an app on my phone that I meditate with, and I love it. You can have music and a nice British lady that talks you through it."
“I’m from a tiny town New Hill, Maine,” host and comedian Emma Willmann pointed out. “Community was an essential part of growing up. I feel like I have a community with queer people, dyslexic people, Maine people, there are so many different kinds of community, but in each community it’s about understanding different viewpoints and communication. It’s like a relationship, so all the things that apply to a relationship applies to community.”
“I’m a huge believer in community. I spend all my time and efforts trying to make my community larger,” O’Hare shared. “I was having a conversation with a Trump supporter. He said, ‘You’re a better man than I am.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not. That’s an easy out. What I am is more imaginative than you are.’”
He continued, “I don’t have to see myself in somebody to have them be my community. I want my community to be as big as it can be so I can embrace everyone around me, because the minute you’re in my community, I care about what you’re going though. I care about where you live, your future, your work. If you’re not part of my community, then you’re the ‘other.’ I think community is the bedrock of everything. The problem with our country is that we don’t understand we’re one community. We’re self-divided or we’ve been self-identified into many communities: I’m a gay, atheist, socialist, dad. I have a lot of intersections right now.”
But “dad” is his most important role: “[The kids] become everything — they become your world. The greatest thing is that I find myself with a lot of parents. It doesn’t matter what sexuality you are or if you’re a single mom, single dad, you have the same issues. Your kid is up at 4 in the morning and wants to get in your bed. What do you do?”
“I consider the movement heroic,” Staley told Plusin 2013.“I consider it a truly communal moment. The power that any of us individually was able to break through only happened on the foundation of community. If we had acted independently, we would have gotten nothing done. We are part and parcel of America’s great social justice movements. They might not have liked us at the time, but it disturbed them and it made them uncomfortable to know that their citizens were being left to die. We definitely shook them up in that regard.”
Staley later added, “I think we have to create institutions that bring us together and start conversation and demand community. We have been working to do that in New York, and I think if you want community, you have to fight for it."
“Community is important for any group, especially for the LGBT community that relies on each other for support,” said Collins, comedian and former cohost of The View. “A night like this is fantastic because it’s all about love. It honors young people going to school, it’s about the next generation, and that’s important, especially with our current political climate.”
Collins also has wonderful advice for anyone dealing with oppressive people in their lives: “Don’t feed the animals. I find that when you light a fire under these anonymous people online, it just gives them more credibility. They get fired up when they know they got to you, and eventually they lose interest.”
As far as mentors go, she has quite a few: “I could say my parents, but they’re also the reason I’m damaged, so I don’t want to give them too much credit,” Collins joked. “I have the most wonderful friends who I consider mentors. I’ve been lucky to work for some of the best female comics of all time and meet them. I’m very grateful to have met Joan Rivers and Whoopi Goldberg and Kathy Griffin. They’re just brilliant people. They were inspirational to me.”
Bob the Drag Queen
“We are a people who even in big towns we have small groups,” he explained. “You go to the same bars, the same plays, the same shops. Gay people even have the same coffee shops, the kind where anyone who goes in there is gay or gay adjacent. And that’s where you meet the people who tend to build a community around you, and of course in those communities you have even smaller communities.”
As far as handling stress: “I don’t really get stressed out. If something is bothering me, I usually call that person immediately. Instead of texting and waiting, I call them immediately. I try to get everything finished and done as fast as possible.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Ross Mathews wasn’t able to attend the event but was able to thank key supporters of Point’s mission to help LGBT students. “Each of you are stars for being part of Point’s Honors New York,” he said. “From me and everyone at RuPaul’s Drag Race — now on VH1, BTW — thank you for coming out tonight in support of LGBTQ young people. They need our help now more than ever.”
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Trans actress Ivory Aquino played trans activist Cecilia Chung in Dustin Lance Black’s ABC miniseries When We Rise.
Aquino introduced Black, who was unable to attend the event due to the U.K. visa regulation that would affect his upcoming marriage to British Olympic diver Tom Daley. Instead, he shared a loving video with his future husband by his side.
Dustin Lance Black and Tom Daley
Black and Daley appeared in a video with a message to Point's scholars as well as all supporters of change: “Until we have increased understanding and dispel the myths, the stereotypes, and the fears around being an LGBTQ person in this world, we must have safety nets like Point Foundation to take care of our young people.”
“Community is important because people need to have support when they come out,” Lemon said. “If I’d thought I had that support, I would have come out earlier, much younger, as a student. Once I did come out, it was great to have a support group around me. One person in my support group is someone I’m honored to hand an award tonight, Thomas Roberts.”
Lemon also shared the importance of having gay allies and straight allies. “One of the first people to get in touch with me was Charles Barkley,” he said. “He texted me and said, ‘I support you man. Good for you. Live your life, call me,’ and we’d talk for 20 or 30 minutes while I was walking down the streets of Manhattan. Rachel [Maddow] also sent me flowers.”
The CNN anchor knows the importance of mentorship and how crucial the work of the Point Foundation is for the future. “I love what Point does,” he said. “It helps students, it gives scholarships, it holds their hands. It’s really important. … My biggest [mentor] is my mother, who told me that she loved me and accepted me no matter what. I think I’m going to have her be a PFLAG mom now. She’s so ‘rah rah rah!’ When someone comes out, she is the first person to call me and say, ‘Do you know this person? Have you reached out to them?’”
Thomas Roberts and Don Lemon
Lemon presented Roberts with the Point Impact Award.
“Thomas came out before I did,” Lemon explained to The Advocate. “I said, ‘Well, that guy did. Maybe there's a chance for me.’ It took me a year or so after him to do it. But I finally did.”
Broadway's Matt Doyle brought the house down as a featured performer for the evening.
Emily Skeggs and Adrian Aiello
Fun Home's Emily Skeggs and guitarist Adrian Aiello sang a little Joni Mitchell toward the end of the evening to much acclaim.