It was a breathtaking moment. LGBT sweetheart Kristin Chenoweth, the funny and gracious star of Sunday’s TrevorLIVE gala, took the stage at the Beverly Hilton to accept the Icon Award, presented by legend Carol Burnett after an hysterical sendup by Kathy Najimy, when her spunky personality took a turn toward the unexpected.
The audience was at first caught off guard until the ballroom silenced, understanding that Chenoweth was telling a personal story about why the award from the LGBT suicide prevention organization meant so much to her. Chenoweth’s close high school friend Jeff was gay.
“I was just unaware, I was just living in the bubble,” Chenoweth said, laughing slightly at the oblique reference to her “Wicked” character Glinda. “But once I found out what it was, I figured out I wanted to be involved forever and ever, amen.”
Chenoweth appeared to be bracing to tell a secret. “In high school, I had a friend named Jeff. I’ll just leave it at that – Jeff is his name. And he was my prince to my Cinderella,” she said, recalling those times. “The minute he complimented my shoes, I knew we were going to be best friends. And of course, he was different. He would say to me, ‘I can’t really talk about it.’ At church, ‘I’ll tell you later,’ he would say. ‘I am a Christian but I can’t tell you who I really am,’ he would say.
“We went away to college and I would write him a letter,” she said pausing for a minute to explain what a letter was to young people watching the live-streamed event. “He would say, ‘tough times. Tough times.’ He was in a fraternity and they were not being so great to him and he was really struggling. (Chenoweth chokes up) and I was hoping he would find his way. But this was 1988 and he didn’t really know about The Trevor Project and we didn’t have it. So Jeff…had to move on to heaven.
“I think he made a decision and I know that tonight he is looking down on me and he is saying ‘thank you, Kris. Thank you.’ So that is why The Trevor Project is important for kids now – to know that you are not alone and you are important and you do matter,” Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth was supposed to sing “Over the Rainbow,” but decided to switch to “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserable”. It was clear she was singing to and for Jeff and when she choked up, briefly struggling to go on, the audience supported her, just as the LGBT family of choice tries to help its desperate youth and the pained survivors of a loved one’s suicide.
Here is Hugh Jackman’s version of “Bring Him Home” from the movie “Les Miserable:”
The sentiment is timely as LA learned of the suicide of 13 year old Rosalie Avila, who was taken off life-support at a Loma Linda hospital on Dec. 1. She had been mercilessly bullied at school and through social media. KCBS reported that her parents are now being bullied, too, after announcing that they had turned over her diary documenting the fatal harassment to police. The family wants the school district held responsible. “I did everything I’m supposed to do as a father, and these people did not respond, because those bullies are still at the school,” lamented Freddie Avila. “They’re still there, and my daughter’s gone.”
Asked why Rosalie’s suicide wasn’t mentioned at the event—or the recent spate of suicides including 10-year old Ashawnty Davis who died Nov. 29 after being bullied in school in Aurora, Colorado andSam Edelman, 18, from Bozeman, Montana who died in Feb. 2016 —a Trevor Project spokesperson said they were concerned about discussing specific stories for fear of the “contagion” effect in at risk youth who might be watching the live-streaming of the event. “Suicide is a public health crisis that claims the lives of tens of thousands of people each year in the United States. The Trevor Project mourns the loss of every person in this country who dies by suicide and is working tirelessly every day to support youth in crisis. Our hearts go out to every family that is grieving over the loss of a young person from suicide,” said the spokesperson.
Without getting hard-nose political, The Trevor Project’s new CEO and Executive Director Amit Paley’s did note the increased importance of the organization. “Today, The Trevor Project is needed more than ever. The day after the presidential election last fall, calls to our 24/7 lifeline from youth in crisis more than doubled,” he said. “And every time a decision from this administration comes out that harms LGBTQ youth—especially trans youth—our call volume spikes. Today, we are serving more young people in crisis than at any point in our nearly 20-year history.”
Paley also explained that The Trevor Project wants to expand youth’s access to resources, building up its text and chat lines, as well as its central call line: 1-866-488-7386.
The spokesperson said the organization raised over $1 million dollars at the event, though they are still collecting pledges and tallying up the in-room giving before announcing the final total.
New donations are always welcome, he said, through their their website at: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/donate/
“Unfortunately, many young people don’t grow up in an environment in which they feel comfortable enough to be themselves or in which to explore exactly who they may truly be. And that is what the Trevor Project is helping to insure,” said the director of “Nocturnal Animals” and “A Single Man,” about a suicidal gay British professor in 1962 LA. “We all know that we are currently enduring a political environment that thrives on hate, and division, and so we must work harder to ensure that we celebrate and fight for inclusion, understanding, and most importantly love.”
Among the other stars and entertainers was Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project, who told of suffering terrible abuse and so-called “conversion therapy” at the hands of loving, deeply religious parents. When Gov. Jerry Brown signed then-State Sen. Ted Lieu’s legislation banning “conversion therapy” in California in 2012, he added a statement calling the practice of psychological child abuse junk science. “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The message to LGBT youth throughout the evening was that they are loved and matter. The message on the Trevor website reads: “Our trained counselors are here to support you 24/7. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 866-488-7386.”
Kristin Chenoweth acceptance speech:
Kristin Chenoweth and and Shoshana Bean performing “For Good” from the hit musical “Wicked” live at TrevorLIVE LA 2017.