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My recap of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center Gala with Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, Coco Peru & Leno

I know Neil Patrick Harris is currently the go-to guy to host big awards ceremonies but I now know of someone else who is just terrific at the job: Chelsea Handler.

The host of the nightly E! Show Chelsea Lately was a comic sensation at Saturday night’s LA Gay & Lesbian Center Gala at the Century Plaza Hotel honoring Wanda Sykes and Clinton Leupp (aka Miss Coco Peru) and presenting American Airlines with the center’s Corporate Vision Award.

“I’ve hosted over 50 events for the gay and lesbian community this past year and assumed that all the problems had been solved,” she joked. “I could have sworn that you guys could now get married on Air Force bases.”

On President Obama record on LGBT rights: “We’re all disappointed that he hasn’t stood up the way we all hoped he would as soon as we hoped he would” but added that at least he has “a secretary of state who dresses like a lesbian.”

Chelsea, in discussing the appearance of Glee co-star Amber Riley, said she always gets Glee confused with American Idol “because it’s so hard to tell which one is Ryan Seacrest and which one is Jane Lynch.”

She also wasn’t afraid to make stereotypical jokes about the audience itself: “It’s great that the center is in the heart of Hollywood. For gays, it is very convenient for nightlife and for lesbians, it’s right around the corner from Home Depot.”

The crowd roared.

But things got a little serious watching a very moving film about the work of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center – especially its work with homeless LGBT youth and those with HIV/AIDS. As I watched those brave men and women talk about how the center was there to help them after their parents kicked them out for being gay or transgender, it made me so glad for the center and so angry at the parents.

I do not think there is anything worse you can do in this world than turn your back on your own child.

The center’s executive director Lorri L. Jean (pictured above with Chelsea Handler and Coco Peru) gave the evening’s most political speech and drove home the point about how destructive these hypocritical conservative politicians are who preach family values but who are really hurting families with their policies and their rhetoric.

“I admit I’ve been happy to see so many self-proclaimed moral guardians fall on their own hypocritical swords,” said Lorri, referring to the likes of Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina.  “Their exposure may be amusing, but there is nothing funny about the damage they do with their unrelenting slander of LGBT people.  Every time we take a kid off the streets whose family rejected him because of religion, we see tangible evidence of the harm these bigots do.  Every day the Center treats countless examples of the ravages of self-hatred and low self-esteem caused by bigotry and ignorance.”

Zachary Quinto, a big movie star thanks to his role as Spock in the recent Star Trek movie, showed up to pay tribute to an old friend: Coco Peru.

He talked about being taken to one of Coco’s shows when he was just 22 (“A lot longer ago than it looks”) and remembers leaving the show “staggered by how powerful it was for me.”

Zachary paid tribute to Coco for having “the power of transcending limitations” and for being “completely unafraid.”

Quinto also read a message from Lily Tomlin (Liza Minnelli had appeared briefly on video and said to Coco: “You’re GAY? Who knew!”) and he won over the crowd for his total effort to sound somewhat like Tomlin – complete with a snort at the end a la her Ernestine character.

The tribute to Peru showed an appearance on Will & Grace as a man so it was interesting to see this very famous drag queen performing as a man. I’m going to refer to Coco as a she in this post even though I know she is a man named Clinton Leupp.

I could really relate when Coco said that “I let shame destroy my youth.”

Peru paid tribute to her fellow drag queens who she said “are often dismissed and their contributions rarely recognized.”

She reminded the audience of their role in the Stonewall Riots and in stepping up in the early days of the AIDS crisis.

“Drag for me was born out of a calling to be an activist,” Coco told the audience. “I was living at home in the Bronx and although I was fortunate to be out, it was the late 80s and it was a scary time for a young gay man in New York City. It was a time when walking down the street you could see the effect of AIDS on people walking towards you. People you knew were suddenly unrecognizable and it scared the hell out of me.

Coco went to an ACT-Up meeting because she felt like she had to do something. She remembers the anger in the room and it scared her. In the end, it came to be that drag was her best way to being an activist and to “embrace everything I was taught to hate about myself and to embrace my two spirit nature.”

“We gender-benders understood if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world!” Coco added before belting out the song This is the Moment in dramatic and soaring fashion.

Wanda Sykes was presented with the Rand Schrader Distinguished Award at the end of the evening by Jay Leno.

Jay’s support of his gay and lesbian friends and staff members was overshadowed last year over a brouhaha surrounding his asking Ryan Phillippe to give his best gay face when they discussed his old role as a gay teen on One Life to Live. Jay later apologized and made an appearance at The Abbey at an anti-Prop. 8 event.

Still, he seemed to go out of his way to assure the audience that he was a friend:”We do jokes about pop culture and about fashion, but we never joke about human rights.”

“You folks really do keep fighting the good fight,” Jay told the crowd.

Before calling Wanda to the stage, Leno talked about the change he’s seen in her: “Since she met her partner and officially came out, she’s really happy.”

Since she came out publicly a year ago when she spoke out against Prop. 8, Wanda has become and outspoken LGBT activist. But as she took the stage and accepted her award, she wondered if maybe she was being honored too soon.

“I almost feel like [President] Obama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize,” she told the crowd. “What the hell have I done?”

Then she added: “But I am aware of the importance of being out and proud and vocal and that’s what I will continue to do…. I promise I will continue to run my big ass mouth!”

Thank God.

FILE UNDER: Awards, Benefits

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