By Nick Romano
May 05, 2019 at 02:13 PM EDT
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images; Bryan Bedder/Getty Images; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
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On Saturday night, the category was… express yourself, not just for the self-proclaimed “creamy smooth pop icon goddess” Madonna being in the building (that descriptor may have not-so humbly slipped into her speech that night), but also because it was a moment of celebration and remembrance.

The 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards, held in New York City, coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that sparked the LGBTQ revolution in 1969 and the 61st birthday of pop artist Keith Haring, who died before his 32nd birthday in 1990 from AIDS-related complications. Madonna, receiving GLAAD’s Advocate for Change award, mentioned both during her acceptance speech as she emotionally described the toll “the plague” took on her friends years ago. And as more celebs took the stage, including Samantha Bee, Andy Cohen (this year’s Vito Russo Award recipient), and CNN’s Don Lemon, talk of Trump and his administration’s attacks on the LGBTQ community were often mentioned.

But the lows gave the highs more meaning. As MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, and Dominique Jackson, three of the trailblazing stars of Ryan Murphy’s Pose, came out to announce the first award winner of the night, Moore looked out into the glamorous crowd — filled with the likes of Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Olympian Gus Kenworthy, and Our Lady J. “You all look so gay!” she exclaimed.

From the A League of Their Own reunion with Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell to Cohen talking about his “first gay experience” in New York while his parents listened, here are those highs from the GLAAD Media Awards.

Meet “black Madonna”

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Sadly, Drag Race vet Shangela didn’t reprise her Beyoncé medley. That was strictly for Beyoncé Knowles-Carter at the Los Angeles GLAAD Awards. For New York, she declared herself “black Madonna.”

“Hold up! Hold up! Who stopped the music? I was getting ready to express myself!” she said, interrupting a vogueing routine on stage with an outfit that channeled Madonna’s iconic cone bra.

As the hostess with the most-ess, Shangela brought the laughs and the musical routines for the GLAAD Awards, notably performing the “Off Off Off Off Off Broadway” rendition of the “Housekeeping Rules” of the GLAAD Awards. “Don’t get it twisted, I ain’t cleanin’ up your mess, son,” she sang.

Shangela also joked she’d be revoking gay cards throughout the night if the audience couldn’t name five Madonna songs. May we suggest her next target be the man in the audience who asked, “are we supposed to know who these people are?” as the ladies of Pose took the stage.

Strike a Pose, there’s nothing to it…

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It was a big night for the cast and crew of FX’s herstory-making drama series, the series with the most trans actors cast in series regular trans roles.

First, in presenting Lemon with the award for Outstanding TV Journalism Segment, Moore took a moment of silence in light of the deaths of trans men and women. She also mentioned Nigel Shelby, a 9th grader in Arizona who committed suicide after facing homophobic bullying in school. With Rodriquez and Jackson by her side, she sent a message out to the community: “We love you, we accept you, and we are you.”

Later in the night, Murphy led his cast to the stage to receive the accolade for Outstanding Drama Series, but the co-creator (with Steven Canals and Brad Falchuk) deferred his time to Janet Mock, trans advocate and one of the writer-directors of Pose.

“Thank you to the ballroom community for trusting us to tell your story and for showing us the importance of creating our own safe spaces,” Mock said. She praised Murphy for using his platform and privilege to change the game for the better, as well as Canals for being the “heart” of the show. “Pose is a vital convention in a world that tells us that we do not matter, that we do not exist. It is a love letter to my sisters and siblings so often discarded.”

Given all this trans talent in the room, actress Alexandra Billings, appearing later on stage with Trace Lysette, reminded Hollywood directors, “If you’re making a film with transgender characters and you cast cis-gender actors, please don’t.”

The best presenters an award show could want

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Before we get to Bee’s win for Full Frontal, can we talk about how adorable YouTube star Lilly Singh and Olympic ice skater Adam Rippon are together as awards presenters?

Singh, who’s about to take over Carson Daly’s late-show spot with her own talk show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh, was so excited to “sleep less” with her new gig. Amid their banter, Rippon mentioned, “If you ever need an Olympic medalist/budding TV star/amateur vocalist/someone who’s just, like, so dangerously thin, you call me!”

The pair gained more applause as they ran down the nominees for Outstanding Variety or Talk Show Episode: “Previous winners include The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen Show, The Daily Show… SO MANY SHOWS!”

Oscars producers, take notes.

Bee glad for this win

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Bee, whose Full Frontal segment written by Nicole Silverberg on trans rights earned a GLAAD award, thanked her staff “who spent countless hours reading the most horrible s– the news has to offer so we can make stories about things that matter to us, the kind of stories that make you want to crack your laptop in half and drown it.”

“The trans issues that we examined in this piece are not new,” she said during her speech. “There is so much work to be done, but there has also been progress. We will not let this administration undo years of effort… [Vice President] Mike Pence whispers more of his anti-LGBTQ bigotry into Trump’s ear. And for God’s sake, if he hadn’t done that, there’s a strong chance that our president would just think that the word transgender was the name of a bicoastal shipping company.”

Bee further attacked the Trump administration’s ban on trans military service members, saying, “Conservatives do not get to say that trans people have no place in the military. If after all that has been done to them they still want to protect your f–ing freedoms, you say thank you.”

Silverberg also highlighted the physical violence against trans people in America, as well as the government’s efforts to undo the community’s rights. For media, she urged the industry to be “as inclusive in our staffing and who we choose to tell their stories as we are in our activism.”

“There is so much trans talent, not just in shows like Pose,” she said, “As we see coming to the forefront these incredible trans stories being told, we have a responsibility to infuse these older industries in media with trans creativity.”

Watch what happened last night

 

Parker presented Cohen with the Vito Russo Award, given by GLAAD to an openly LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBTQ community. This year, it goes to the host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, “the person,” Parker said, “so many claim as their best friend.”

Taking the stage, Cohen joked, “I don’t love having to follow Carrie Bradshaw in a room full of Sex and the City fans.”

The talk show host then went back to 1989 to explain the effect of seeing Vito Russo, the LGBTQ advocate and author of The Celluloid Closet. In those days, living as a 21-year-old in New York City, “It was my first taste of the gay in New York City… and I loved it,” Cohen said. Cut to the looks from his parents, sitting in the audience, as that thought sinks in. “The song that summer was ‘Express Yourself’ and outside of CBS News [where Cohen interned] I was expressing myself all over town.”

He only came out to his coworkers at the network after seeing Russo on television, one of Russo’s last interview appearances before he died of AIDS.

“To be gay today is something that I am so thankful for, but the fight is not over and it’s a fight that I am committed to even more so now that I am a father,” he said. “When I came out of the closet all those years ago, my mom said three things to me. First, she said, ‘I probably would’ve hated your wife anyway.’ Second, that she was going to get involved with the local AIDS organization in St. Louis so she could get to know my community — and she did, by the way… And last, this struck me then and it especially strikes me now, that she needed to mourn the loss of my ever being able to have a family. What a gift that I spent today with my parents and my son.”

Chelsea Clinton highlights “hope and optimism” in the face of Trump

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In addressing LGBTQ rights, Chelsea Clinton, who came out to speak during the awards ceremony, inevitably got down to the Trump of it all.

“This has always been important and I’d argue it’s never been more important than it is today when we have an administration that consistently, feels like daily, launches verbal, regulatory, and attempted legislative attacks on LGBTQ people across the country,” she said. What’s more egregious, she added, “the on-going silence when LGBTQ people are murdered around the world and also here in the United States. This is not the country that I want my children to grow up in. It’s horrifying, it’s unconscionable, it should always been condemned.”

But there’s “hope and optimism” in our current reality. “We have a record-number of diverse candidates — at least in the Democratic Party — running for office in every level of government, including for the presidency,” she said. “I must say it particularly means a great deal to me that we have so many women running, and also so many people of color, and that we have a gay candidate.”

A league of their own

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In addition to Anderson Cooper and Mykki Blanco, Rosie O’Donnell was one of the surprise celebrity guests to help present Madonna with the Advocate for Change award.

“It was about 30 years ago when I met Madonna on A League of Their Own,” the comedienne said. “It was an innocent time before social media, before the Keto Diet. I was dating a man back then. You didn’t know I had a brief foray into heterosexuality. It was during filming of A League of Their Own. His name was Michael and he was a lovely man, and he and I went to see [Madonna in] Truth or Dare two days before [director] Penny Marshall said to me, ‘Rosie, Madonna’s gonna come in tomorrow. If she likes you, she’ll do the movie. Try to be funny.’ I then proceeded to have diarrhea.”

O’Donnell recalled being “VG, very gay” and approaching Madonna for advice at a time when she was “questioning and unsure” about her sexuality. “She told me, ‘Rosie, just follow your heart,’ advice that I take to this day,” O’Donnell said.

An emotional Madonna remembers the AIDS epidemic

And now, the moment the entire room was waiting for: Madonna, for her years of promoting LGBTQ acceptance, took the podium in receiving the Advocate for Change award.

The singer, who recently revealed her new album, Madame X, paid tribute to her friend Haring, her former roommate Martin Burgoyne, and her high school ballet teacher in Detroit, Christopher Flynn, “the first person that believed in me, that made me feel special as a dancer, as an artist and as a human being.”

“I know this sounds trivial and superficial,” she added, “but he was the first man to tell me that I was beautiful.”

After so many friends in her life died from AIDS-related complications, Madonna said she “decided to take up the bullhorn and really fight back,” even though it meant getting her “a— kicked” by those spreading rumors that she herself contracted HIV.

“As soon as you really understand what it means to love, you understand what it takes to become a human being,” she said, closing out her speech, “and that it is every human’s duty to fight, to advocate, to do whatever we can and whatever it takes. Madame X is a freedom fighter.”

The 30th annual GLAAD Awards will air on Logo Sunday, May 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

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