For the first time, the Point Foundation - an organization currently providing scholarships to 84 LGBTQ students - held its annual gala at The Plaza in New York City on Monday night.
Points Honors took place inside the third-floor Grand Ballroom, which Christie's auctioneer Robbie Gordy christened, "Liberace's living room." The fundraiser featured musical performances, comedian Emma Willmann as host, and awards presentation to three LGBTQ advocates for their leadership (Dustin Lance Black), courage (Uzo Aduba) and impact (Thomas Roberts). Several actors and real-life personalities from Black's recent ABC mini-series spanning 45 years of LGBT history, We Will Rise, were in attendance, as well as many of Aduba's fellow Broadway veterans (most Broadway theaters are dark on Monday nights). The proceedings could have doubled as a tribute to Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow Flag, who died Friday at age 65.
Black - who won as Oscar for writing Milk, the 2008 biopic starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the gay rights activist who was assassinated in San Francisco's City Hall - was absent himself, but he delivered a videotaped message from London, filmed alongside his fiancé, Olympic diver Tom Daley. "In order to marry me he has to get a visa, and he isn't allowed to leave at the moment, or else we can't get married," said Daley. After expressing much regret about missing the chance to meet Aduba - a two-time Emmy-winner for Orange Is The New Black - Black said, "Until we increase understanding and dispel the myths and the stereotypes and the fears around being an LGBTQ person in this world, we've got to have safety nets like the Point Foundation to take care of our young people…Take the lessons that we learned from our successes in this movement, and reach out to our brothers and sisters in other social justice movements." Additional projects where Black has put gay narratives at the forefront include films like The Journey of Jared Price, Pedro, the Clint Eastwood-directed Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle J. Edgar, the documentary On The Bus, and 8, a staged reenactment of the closing arguments in the federal trial that overturned California's Proposition 8.
MSNBC anchor Roberts came out 17 years ago, and has since won awards from GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign. In 2015, he made TV history as the first out anchor of a major American network newscast, NBC's Nightly News, and the next year he won an Emmy for his coverage of the Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage. He attended the ceremony with his husband, Patrick Abner, and was introduced by Don Lemon, who left early to anchor CNN Tonight from the nearby Time Warner Center. "Not only is he a very handsome gentleman who rivals me at a rival network, he's also my friend," said Lemon. "He's Bette though, I'm Joan." Roberts was also a guest judge last season on RuPaul's Drag Race, and that year's winner, Bob the Drag Queen (Christopher Caldwell) was a Points Honors presenter, though he opted not to wear drag or resuscitate his impression of Aduba's OITNB character, Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren.
Besides the scholarship recipients, the night really belonged to Aduba, who received standing ovations before and after her nine-minute speech. On her Netflix series, Aduba has pined for two women, though last year she described Crazy Eyes to The Advocate as "someone who wants to give and receive love," adding, "I don't think sexual orientation enters her mind." Aduba has championed LGBT rights across the continent, marching in the 2015 Gay Pride Parade in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and kicking off an LGBT voter outreach initiative in Philadelphia last fall; Valencia told THR she's "a straight ally that is just beyond supportive." On the red carpet, Aduba detailed her first advocacy experience to THR - standing up for a bullied female classmate in the cafeteria as a Medfield, Mass. eighth grader. "The next day I came to school, and they all were sitting at a different table," Aduba recalled. "I sat at that table by myself everyday" in protest. When there are "corners of our world that might be trying to tell you that you don't matter, do[ing] things to actively invalidate you," Aduba commended the Point Foundation for "reinforc[ing] the idea that you matter."
Onstage, she thanked her mom, a Nigerian immigrant, "for never questioning, or wondering, or classifying sexuality or gender as anything other than a, 'So what?' question," whether the person was Aduba's gay figure skating teacher, cousin, or best friend since age seven, a man named Mark who she calls "Crowley." She endearingly remembered a conversation with Crowley in a parked car. "He said, 'I have something to tell you.' Now, in my dramatic fashion, I assumed, Crowley's going to tell you he's in love with you. True story. But suddenly I looked at Crowley, and I saw the tension in his face, the stress in his body, and the anxiety in his heart, and very quickly my spirit changed and I said to myself, Nope, Crowley's about to come out to you. And he did."
Aduba's award was presented by Javier Muñoz, who plays the titular role in Broadway's Hamilton and met Aduba at the start of this decade when she played his mother in Venice, an eventual off-Broadway play that originated at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in Missouri. "She became a confidante very quickly in my life, someone who has been a major support to me throughout everything," said Muñoz - a gay, HIV-positive, cancer survivor - when speaking with THR.
Aduba performed at Point Honors back in 2014, singing "Don't Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl. Previously, the gala has recognized the contributions of stars like Lena Dunham, Robin Roberts and Jeffrey Tambor (Judith Light, Tambor's ex-wife on the Amazon series Transparent, is an honorary member of the board of directors). While event organizers were unable to provide the total amount raised last night, a first-time donor did pledge $100,000 for a new scholarship, and one guest successfully bid $6,000 to visit the OITNB set in Astoria, Queens.