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How Lily Tomlin Became a Lifelong Advocate for the L.A. LGBT Center

Lily Tomlin

Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the center, discusses the impact of the lesbian actress and her role in the organization's 50th-anniversary celebration, Hearts of Gold.


There will be many A-list entertainers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Hearts of Gold -- a Saturday concert celebrating the organization's 50th anniversary.

Among them? Sia, Rufus Wainwright, Ty Herndon, Kathy Griffin, Tig Notaro, Superstore's Nico Santos, Queer Eye's Karamo Brown and Bobby Berk, Black-ish's Jenifer Lewis, Bruce Vilanch, and Hayley Kiyoko.

However, one of the night's biggest stars, Lily Tomlin, is also one of the longest-running supporters of the center and its many services, which include housing homeless LGBTQ youth and seniors, providing medical services and STI testing, and advocating nationally and internationally for equality.

According to the center's CEO, Lorri L. Jean, it was a leaky roof that first recruited the Grace and Frankie star as a donor. "Of course that was long before I got here," said Jean, "but what I'm told is that she got a call, probably in the '70s, from [LGBTQ rights activist] Ivy Bottini that the center's roof was leaking. And so Lily and [her partner] Jane [Wagner] wrote a check to fix the roof. And Lily has been responding to our request for help ever since."

Tomlin and Wagner have been such ardent advocates and fundraisers for the center that its Cultural Arts Center has been named after the couple. This advocacy will also be on full display at Saturday's concert -- and not just onstage. According to Jean, Tomlin worked behind the scenes to make the event shine -- bringing on 9 to 5 costar Jane Fonda as well as securing Cher concert tickets and a Las Vegas meet-and-greet for the auction.

And while Cher herself (unfortunately) could not make Hearts of Gold due to a scheduling conflict, Tomlin helped orchestrate the recording of a video of the gay icon, which will be played for audience members at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

"Lily Tomlin is an icon," Jean said. "She could be involved with any LGBT organization in the country or the world, and she chooses to put her energies with us. That makes me enormously proud. I remember watching Lily Tomlin on Laugh-In when I was a little girl. And to now be able to be friends with her and to have her help me professionally? I mean, it blows my mind."

"Lily just turned 80 in September. And so here she is decades later still going strong, out of the closet, proud, talented, working. She's a role model for all of us," Jean added.

The advocacy of Tomlin -- and all those who support the center -- is, sadly, sorely needed. As the nation discusses the housing and homelessness crisis in California, it is vital to note that 40 percent of L.A.'s homeless population is made up of LGBTQ young people. The center is there to help them and anyone else who requires health services: It has 42,000 client visits each month, which totals to half a million per year.

Jean, who was 35 when she began working for the center in January 1993, counts herself among the millions that the organization has helped. "I have spent more time working at the center than I have at virtually anything else I've ever done in my life," said Jean. "It has given me the most rewarding career on the planet. It has educated me about the breadth and the depth of our community and made me a better person."

This love and loyalty will be on display at Hearts of Gold, where in addition to the stars, several founders (and even a surviving board member) will be in attendance to celebrate one of the world's oldest LGBTQ organizations. The center's ability to survive and thrive -- it recently opened a campus for LGBTQ youth and seniors thanks in large part to a historic $8 million gift from Anita May Rosenstein -- makes it a role model as well for other groups serving marginalized communities.

Jean's advice to these groups? "Don't be afraid to dream big," she said. "People associated with our center have always had the courage to set their sights on things that most people would never have thought were possible -- and they achieved them. And people should never do their work in isolation. Our center has succeeded because we've always had many collaborative partners and colleagues in L.A. and around the country who helped them."

At Hearts of Gold, every ticket goes to support the center's lifesaving services. In addition to musical performers, attendees will also be treated to a presentation on five decades of LGBTQ history. For these reasons and more, Jean promised that it is an event not to be missed.

"First of all, it is going to be kick-ass time," Jean said. "We have some of the music industry's and Hollywood's finest. But more than that, what is going to be illustrated on Saturday is the fact that through good times and bad, if we persevere, we will prevail. The center has been here through the worst time and the best times. And we have never given up. Look what we've created."

"In this day and age, when we have a president who is trying to reverse our progress at every turn, it can be very demoralizing. What the center's history shows is that if we keep going, if we don't give up, we will continue to succeed. And that's the message we all could use more of these days."

Select tickets for Hearts of Gold have recently been marked down. Find them on Ticketmaster and learn more about the event at

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.