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'Modern Family': Jesse Tyler Ferguson talks about the show being honored at the Respect Awards

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Image Credit: Tatiana Beller/PR PhotosIn just one season, ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family has amassed an impressive array of trophies. (See: Emmys, Television Critics Association Award, Humanitas Prize, etc.) On Friday night, the series was honored again—this time at the Respect Awards, presented in Los Angeles by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN recognized Family for its “positive images and storylines that reflect a diverse America, including the depiction of a family headed by a gay couple.”

The award was “massively important” to the show, says Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell on the series. “To be recognized by the LGBT community like that just means that we’re on the right track,” he explains. “I think all of the hard work we put into trying to make Cameron [Eric Stonestreet] and Mitchell a grounded, loving couple is paid off when they appreciate the way we’re representing them on television.”

Ferguson, who spoke at the Respect Awards on behalf of Family, was a little awestruck that director Rob Reiner was chosen to present the award to the show: “At one point during my speech he chuckled at something I said, and I had to stop and acknowledge the fact that Rob Reiner just laughed at one of my jokes.” With series creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, and fellow castmates Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Rico Rodriguez, Ariel Winter, and Nolan Gould in attendance, Ferguson talked about how he wished that there were a show like Modern Family on TV when he was growing up in Albuquerque. “It would’ve been wonderful to sit down with my parents and siblings and be able to watch the fabric of who I was be represented on TV, and to not have it be a big gay thing, but just be an equal, normal part of the family. I would’ve loved to have had role models like Cameron and Mitchell. Now to see that there is a show like that on television and I get to be Mitchell to someone—it’s a huge honor.” And speaking of honors, where does the show keep that ever-growing stockpile of hardware? “I don’t know where they’re being stored,” he chuckles. “Maybe they’re turning it into one big sculpture—just this crazy, avant garde abstract mass of award.”

Below, you can watch a PSA that Ferguson and Stonestreet just shot for the Trevor Project, which runs a suicide prevention helpline for gay and questioning youth. “We’re certainly not a new voice to that—there are so many people speaking out about it,” says Ferguson. “But hopefully we can flood the media with the message that bullying is not okay. It’s not just a gay issue.” It’s an issue that’s personal to Ferguson. “I was pretty severely bullied in grade school for being different,” he recalls. “I had to leave eighth grade, and something I kept reminding myself when that was happening was that there’s a huge world outside of high school and [there will be] many many many years to my life, and that was my oyster. I just looked for any possible outlet where there was acceptance, whether it be community theater or friends down the street who weren’t influenced by peer pressure. I’m happy that an organization like [the Trevor Project] is around.”