The importance of visibility and vulnerability dominated the 2018 Family Equality Council’s Impact Awards Gala Saturday night, March 17, at Universal Studios Globe Theatre. This year’s ceremony honored interior designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, stars of the TLC show Nate and Jeremiah by Design and Johnson & Johnson’s Care with Pride Initiative, now in its seventh year.
“It’s more important than ever that we celebrate those who use their platform to advocate for our right to form our families, and protect our children from discrimination. Loving families like Nate and Jeremiah’s and high impact programs like Care for Pride are exactly what we need to remind our country that love wins and to remind America what real family values look like,” Family Equality Council CEO Stan J. Sloan told the Los Angeles Blade.
Brent told the Los Angeles Blade that he and Berkus “believe in opening up the doors and letting people know that we love the way you love…everything about us is the same, and as cliché as the saying is, love is love.” The couple didn’t set out to be role models when creating their show, he added, but simply wanted to “be honest and vulnerable” and to expose young LGBTQ viewers to a gay couple on television.
“Call Me By Your Name” actor Armie Hammer presented the couple with the Murray-Reese Family Award, describing them as having “a perfect house…and a perfect life,” adding, “there’s not a better couple in the world to receive this award.”
Berkus and Brent were repeatedly interrupted with rousing applause accepting the honor. “Both of us have always believed that visibility and vulnerability are the birthplaces of real transformation,” said Brent.
They lamented that LGBTQ history has been dominated by a societal expectation of shame, and shared that in their show, “through the exercise of design, we break down barriers and normalize the way our family exists to people in the middle of the country who may not know a family with two dads at the heart and at the helm,” said Berkus.
Visibly emotional, Brent ended the speech by mentioning the couple’s young daughter, Poppy, and telling her, “This room is full of people that care.”
Actress/singer Olivia Holt introduced the Johnson & Johnson honoree, saying the Care with Pride Initiative celebrates the LGBTQ community through social media, participation in Pride events and by donating $1 to an LGBTQ advocacy organization for every photo shared through their Create a Photo app.
“A brand that stands for something is two times as powerful as one that doesn’t,” said Reed Harris II, accepting the award on behalf of the organization. He also shared an anecdote about an employee’s son coming out and thanked the parents in attendance for allowing their children to be vulnerable and unconditionally loved. “The qualities you embody as a family—love, acceptance, pride, togetherness—are qualities that we all need to embody as individuals and as a country,” Harris said.
Event emcee actor/comedian Alec Mapa told the Los Angles Blade that he is dismayed that “cruel, hateful laws” negatively affect families with LGBTQ parents like his own. He praised the Family Equality Council’s work in providing information and resources to those families who don’t have it.
“Love is love is love, and love is what makes a family—it doesn’t matter if it’s by blood, by adoption, gay or straight or lesbian,” actress Constance Marie said, adding that she has imparted this value of acceptance to her young daughter.
Queer Eye actor Karamo Brown gave a call to action in his speech, imploring that “if [Parkland student gun control advocates] can rise up and work fearlessly in the face of that terrible moment, then we have no excuse not to rise up in this moment and work just as fearlessly for a better tomorrow, too.”
Lola Jessika, in perhaps the most emotionally charged speech of the gala, shared how she used her opportunity appearing in Uber’s annual Pride commercial to be vulnerable and come out as pansexual to her family. “Embracing our vulnerability can be risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging, and joy,” she said, inviting her daughters to join her onstage as she received a standing ovation from the audience.
In his remarks, Sloan talked about Family Equality Council’s work to fight Attorney General Jeff Sessions and discriminatory state laws that are preventing 117,000 youth currently waiting for families from being adopted by LGBTQ parents. Galvanized, the crowd donated over $378,000 to support Family Equality Council’s work for LGBTQ youth seeking families, research, advocacy, and offsetting the cost of adoption for lower income LGBTQ parents, among other initiatives.
To end the night, singer Debby Holiday performed “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” a song co-written by her father Jimmy Holiday for Jackie DeShannon in 1968. The song aptly represented Family Equality Council’s message: “If you want the world to know that we won’t let hatred show, put a little love in your heart.”