It’s become a tradition that on the first night of LA Pride, the LA Gay & Lesbian Center’s LifeWorks Mentoring program throws its annual cocktail party and silent auction and honors LGBT activists for their contributions.
This year’s event was held for the first time on the backlot of Paramount Studios and I think this was the best location yet for what has become one of my favorite events of the year.
Mike C. Manning of The Real World: DC fame was presented with LifeWorks Courage Award for his dedication to the youth development and mentoring program.
We chatted before he was presented with his award by NCIS star Pauley Perrette.
LifeWorks is so impactful so I’m honored that they chose me of all people to receive the award,” Mike said. “It’s amazing. I was floored. I was just happy to get involved with them. They do so much for LGBT youth which is a group that I think is under-represented with LGBT equal rights groups. They are an untapped resource. They are the future of our activism, the future advocates for equal rights and not enough is done to hone that.”
Because of his visibility from The Real World, Mike hears from a lot of young people.
“I have kids come up to me or get emails and letters and they tell me their stories – good stories and bad stories – so the fact that I can impact their lives like that and help them be who they are and in turn help other people, it’s a gift.”
The evening’s other honoree was the remarkable Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old student at the University of Iowa who became a YouTube phenomenon when he addressed the Iowa State Legislature in support of his two moms and of gay marriage.
We spoke before he got his award. I wanted to know how his life has changed since the video of him speaking so eloquently and lovingly about his family went viral.
“I was not expecting that and if I had been expecting it I’m not sure I would have done it,” he admitted. “It was entirely unexpected. The speech was on a Monday night and Wednesday was the day it took off. I remember sitting in my apartment shaking because of all this pressure and attention and my life was all of a sudden under a microscope and that was not something I’d ever experienced or asked for. It was scary. But at the same time, I knew I had the chance to maybe change the conversation a little bit – for awhile anyway. You either choke or you don’t and I did my best not to.”
He’s since been working with Lambda Legal and One Iowa to protect marriage equality.
“The fights not over,” he said. “Once you’ve secured marriage equality, you have to work your ass off to protect it because the fight’s not over until the other side stops fighting.”
Zach is going to be a part-time student next fall so he can focus on speaking and writing.
“I think the next year-and-a-half is going to be a real pivotal time for this struggle,” he said. “We’re finally starting to see, on a national level, that a majority of Americans support full marriage equality but you also have a lot of candidates on the Republican side all campaigning on this ‘return to family values’ which seems kind of silly to me. the fact of the matter is, increasing marriage rights seems like the best way to increase family values.”
Other than the honorees, among those at Saturday’s star-studded event were Dustin Lance Black, Greg Berlanti, Geri Jewell, Pauley Perrette, Greg Louganis, Jack Mackenroth (Project Runway), Susan Olson (Brady Bunch), Erin Murphy (Bewitched), Charlene Tilton (Dallas), David Moretti (The Lair), Queer as Folk alums Michelle Clunie and Scott Lowell, Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc) and the reigning Mr. Gay USA Michael Holtz.
LifeWorks Executive Director Michael Ferrera (pictured with Louganis) and Lorri Jean, CEO of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, also addressed the crowd talking about this terrific program.
Black presented the award to Wahls and before the presentation, I wanted to get the Oscar winners thoughts on the LifeWorks program which honored him two years ago.
“We keep saying it gets better and to come out and embrace who you are once you get past the bullying or whatever is going on in school,” Lance said. “It’s one thing to say it but you have to make sure that those kids have a place to go so it does get better, so that we’re fulfilling that promise. This is one of those programs that does help it get better.”
Below is Zach Wahls addressing the Iowa legislature: