The nonprofit celebrated Cagle for his media leadership and ongoing philanthropy
Credit: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for GLSEN

When Jess Cagle was a gay youth growing up in Texas, he remembered finding a book about sex that referred to homosexuals as fairies who were described as “predators” who were “dangerous.”

“I knew somehow that applied to me,” recalled Cagle, now the editorial director of PEOPLE and EW. “I can still see those words and I will never forget them.”

Cagle reflected on his childhood and how he overcame “painful reminders” of bigotry after accepting the Visionary Award Friday from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a nonprofit organization that works with schools to teach awareness and acceptance of people regardless of their sexual orientation. Julia Roberts presented Cagle with the award by citing his many contributions to the LGBTQ community, from his special report about the ‘Gay ’90s’ while serving as the executive editor of Entertainment Weekly, to his plea for gun control in the pages of PEOPLE after 49 men and women were killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando in June.

Cagle told the crowd at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Friday in Beverly Hills that hate-based speech and the violence that often goes with it “is nothing more than someone saying don’t be different. Be like me. The person saying that is an a–hole, so don’t be like that,” said Cagle, who added, “no one ever suffered by being different. No one ever succeeded by being just like everybody else.”

Actress Kate Hudson was also awarded with GLSEN’s Inspiration Award at the ceremony attended by Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Matt Bomer (American Horror Story), and Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black). Described as a visible ally to the LGBTQ community, Hudson and her mother Goldie Hawn work on behalf of the Hawn Foundation to help kids build social and emotional skills.

“I commend the LBGTQ community for encouraging all children to have the courage to speak out,” said Hudson, who was presented with the award by DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. “Change starts with our children in their home environment and schools.”

Credit: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for GLSEN

This year’s recipient of the #GameChanger Award is Connor Franta, who came out on YouTube in 2014. His moving video has received more than 11 million views.

Disney/ABC Executive VP of Global Communications Kevin Brockman was also honored with the Hero Award for his countless contributions to GLSEN over the last two decades.

Moving forward, GLSEN’s mission is to help a million more students in an additional 26,000 schools by 2020.