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GLAAD Media Awards
Marriott Marquis Hotel, New York City
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
March 26, 2007   photo-album Bookmark and Share

By now, four days after the event, we’ve perused no less than thirty articles about the 18th Annual GLAAD Media Awards held on Monday night at the Marriott Marquis here in Gotham—and NOT ONE article has been honest about what really went on that night. Instead, we’ve read stories about how Patti LaBelle and Jennifer Hudson were the toast of the night—when the truth of the matter is closer to a smackdown.

Of course the night had already started on a note of controversy given GLAAD’s uncompromising position not to include gay media such as Here and Logo in their nominations and awards. In spite of widespread criticism for such a stance, GLAAD was unrelenting—this year. Perhaps it’s a matter of how the bylaws of the organization are written—after all, the acronym stands for Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation—and it’s probable that gay media are not going to be defaming our community, and therefore, why bother rewarding them? Right? Well, not quite, not for everybody, and bless Kate Clinton who, in accepting her Pioneer Award, chose to make mention of the matter and express hope that GLAAD will, in the future, alter its exclusion of gay media for commendation.

So there we were, in the rather unremarkable ballroom of the Marriott Marquis—Mormon design at its finest, we could’ve been in Salt Lake, or Detroit—video screens a-plenty, given the capacity crowd, and some tables so far from the stage so as to get only a glimpse of the service entrance. “Oh, look, there goes—a waiter…”

Obviously, the thrill of possibly doing Tom Ford in the men’s room had sold out the house. Mr. Ford was there to receive the Vito Russo Award—and oh, that Vito were still around to savor the delectability of Mr. Glamourpuss receiving an award named for Mr. Russo, the man who deciphered the subliminal gay messages within the film industry.

Fortunately, our table was next to the stage entrance—where we witnessed every presenter and award winner waltzing by—Whoopi, Julianne, Rosie, Tom, Cynthia Nixon, John Waters—but more interesting than the fact of their presence was counting the members of their entourage—and ultimately determining that those celebrities with the most confidence and dignity needed no more entourage than their partner. Bravo to Tom Ford and Kate Clinton—for showing us all how to do it when it’s our turn: recognize the one you love and walk arm-in-arm with him or her. Ms. Hudson, on the other hand…. We counted no less than twelve people surrounding and following and leading Ms. Hudson to the stage…. But then again, once we heard her at the podium, well, perhaps it’s understandable…. More on that later…

First, a shout-out to our most excellent dinner partner, Jesse Garcia, star and heartache of the year’s most endearing film Quinceanera, who proved himself a sparkling conversationalist even as he prepared a speech to present the award for Outstanding Spanish-Language Variety Program. Needless to say again—as anyone who saw the film knows, but let’s say it again anyway—the boy has it in spades. As do the writer/ directors for that film, Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, also seated at our table, and who also gave us that delightful film The Fluffer (and are at least partially responsible for that term’s entrance into the vernacular). Congrats to all three of them for winning Outstanding Film in Limited Release—and especially to them for doing so with such grace and dignity.

Which bring us to the final part of the evening—the not-so-graceful. Patti LaBelle was to receive the Excellence in Media Award—presumably for her unflagging support of the gays and her work in the fight against AIDS (she serves as spokesperson for the National Minority AIDS Council)—and earlier in the week, GLAAD had announced that Jennifer Hudson had come on-board to present the award to Ms. LaBelle (and hello? Has anyone else noted the amazing symmetry in such a selection? Think about it: in 1967, Cindy Birdsong left Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells—to replace Flo Ballard who’d been dumped from the Supremes—and here we have the Oscar-winning actress who played Effie White, the Flo Ballard-esque character who was dumped from the Dreams in the film Dreamgirls, a fictionalization of the Supremes story, giving an award to the songstress who’d been dumped. What goes around, and around—or something like that, anyway.)

So, there we were, and there went JHud and her entourage of sixty-two, and then came JHud to the stage—but apparently, she couldn’t read the teleprompter—“Effie can’t read, y’all”—and no one had thought to give her a script of the speech she was to read—and so she stumbled over words and shielded her eyes—and was generally endearing in a Billie Dawn/Jessica Rabbit kind of ditsy way.

But then came Ms. LaBelle, barging onto the stage before JHud had finished what had now become an extemporaneous speech, whereupon LaBelle proceeded to tell JHud that it was no problem that she couldn’t see the teleprompter, because neither could she read “that shit”—and in fact, she said, people like the two of them didn’t know how to read, because, “You know why? We don’t need to.”

And while some of the audience took a collective gasp, LaBelle thundered on, commencing a performance which had her trading rings with JHud as she attempted to imitate the Madonna/Britney MTV kiss, before then proceeding to tell JHud that she didn’t know her before tonight and she thought she was a bitch.

Furthermore, she could see now that JHud was no Beyonce. “When I saw this heifer coming out, she killed everybody. They said Beyonce who?" In fact, LaBelle said, “I see me in you,” because, everyone always said Patti LaBelle was ugly when she was coming up. “We the same, girl.” And that was why, according to LaBelle, that JHud was the recipient of tonight’s award.

What? Wasn’t LaBelle the one getting the award?

Onward, LaBelle plowed, digging deeper and deeper—and now the audience was riveted. This was a true-to-life meltdown, far better than Lauren Bacall’s collapse at the podium at the Oscars, and better than the footage of Paula Abdul on some morning show, and better even than Elaine Stritch telling a capacity crowd of MacDowell Colony supporters that she loved George W. Bush. “They’ve always loved me,” LaBelle said, referring to her LGBT supporters, “though I don’t know why.”

She didn’t know why we loved her, and even when people around her would tell her she shouldn’t love us, she said we still loved her, and for forty-five years we’ve been loving her and, then turning back to JHud again, she says, “I thought you were a bitch. You’re no Beyonce.”

Where was our tape recorder? We glanced at Jesse, and at Richard and Wash—who were equally spellbound.

Whereafter, LaBelle went on—and on, about how some people didn’t like us gays, and how Jesus teaches her what’s right and “I thought you were a bitch,” she said, once again to JHud.

Who, incidentally, was standing alongside LaBelle, still holding onto LaBelle’s award—but perhaps imagining how that crystal award might shatter if dashed at LaBelle’s feet.

And then, as a few at the front tables began to shout, “Sing, sing” (well-known insider code for “Shut up, shut up”), LaBelle suddenly opened her mouth wider and started singing, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” motioning to JHud to follow—and to her credit, Ms. Hudson did follow, and werk it out—louder and longer than LaBelle—who strolled over to stage left to the other mike to finish the verse.

Whereupon the stage lights went down and the sound went off—even as LaBelle continued talking her talk and motioning to JHud.

Meanwhile, in the ballroom, an announcer came on the intercom to direct us to the after-party (where we would find a somewhat stunned deer-in-the-headlights Junior Vasquez), and slowly we filed out of the ballroom, past the teleprompter which still read, “Patti LaBelle: THANK YOU, EVERYBODY. THANK YOU FOR THIS HONOR.” Words left unspoken—when too many others had been.

With luck, and subterfuge, all of the above will soon find its way to a YouTube screen near you. You won’t want to miss it.

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