An evening in the heart of WeHo is always sure to be a dazzling one, but last Thursday, there was an extra touch of sparkle in the air as the community gathered to acknowledge its best and brightest.
For a remarkable array of West Hollywood’s most familiar faces and friends, the place to be was Rocco’s Tavern on Santa Monica Boulevard, for the third annual Blade Best of LGBTQ LA event, presented by the Ariadne Getty Foundation and PostMates in association with Chappy’s, Cadillac of Beverly Hills, Wheels, Casamigo, Gold Meets Golden and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. It was more than just an opportunity to reward the achievements of a few celebrated individuals – it became a celebration of the community itself.
The crowd began to assemble early, for a red carpet and reception on Rocco’s patio, where the new local eatery and nightspot (voted by Blade readers in the Best of LGBTQ LA Awards as this year’s Best Neighborhood Bar) served up a hearty selection of meal-sized happy hour treats. Even before the event itself began, the atmosphere at Rocco’s was already beginning to feel like a gathering of beloved friends and family – a gathering that included a blending of legendary pioneers from the past, present, and future, whose presence served as a reminder of the ongoing arc of community history that connected everyone in the room together.
Despite the sea of notable figures that were everywhere among the partygoers, there was no sense that this was one of those glitzy “see and be seen” events where people show up to mix and mingle with celebrities; rather, they blended with the rest of the crowd, joining their voices with the rest of the community in offering recognition, appreciation, and congratulations to the evening’s winners.
The festivities themselves got off to a rousing start with a dance performance from the fabulously diverse Beauty of Burlesque show, who returned throughout the presentation with musical interludes and tantalizing stripteases aimed to please every person in the crowd, no matter which gender, orientation, or preference. They were followed by host Miss Tosh, who gave the crowd a rousing rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” before handing things off to Los Angeles Blade editor Troy Masters to get the ceremony rolling.
Official announcement of the winners in the various categories, chosen in a poll of over 30,000 Blade readers, was interspersed throughout the night; Josh Johnson of InVision Church, which was voted winner in the Best House of Worship category, stepped up to fulfill that duty, while also putting his affable charm on display as the evening’s de facto MC. Each of the winning names was met with enthusiastic cheers and applause from the gathered audience.
It was with the evening’s special awards, though, that the already-palpable spirit of community in the room became most powerful.
The first such moment came when Masters took the stage to introduce Blade News Editor Karen Ocamb, who was presenting the award to Runningbear Ramirez. Ocamb, who is herself being honored later this year with a Special Recognition Award at the GLAAD Media Awards, first introduced Michael Aguilera, the LA deputy for Congressmember Adam Schiff, whose district covers Burbank to West Hollywood. Ocamb led the crowd in a rousing ovation of gratitude for Schiff, who has been protecting the US Constitution and arguing the case for the impeachment and removal of President Donald John Trump as the lead manager of the House impeachment team.
Welcoming Runningbear to the community with the Local Hero Award, Ocamb – who wrote the Blade’s feature about Ramirez — was eloquent in her praise for the young Native American entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist, noting that his work includes a current association with Project Angel Food addressing the nutritional needs of Native Americans with diabetes.
Ocamb brought Ramirez to the stage by saying, “He is a child of poverty who now is very wealthy and he walks in both those worlds, and he knows how to understand people, grasp people, and share with people in a way that a lot of us don’t understand. In particular, he’s using his wealth to make a difference.”
After being handed the award, Ramirez made a brief speech:
“I’m very thankful for the LGBTQ and the Native American communities for allowing me to do what I do. I appreciate Project Angel Food, for participating with helping the people who need it the most, and I’m just extremely excited to see what comes next.”
Referencing his upcoming birthday, he ended by quipping, “This is 29. I’ll be 30 on Sunday, let’s see what 30 brings.”
Viggy Ganapathy of PostMates co-presented the Hero Award. He praised a room full of heroes and reminded everyone of the importance of having champions.
Masters accepted Ariadne Getty’s Best LGBTQIA Activist Award, and an award, Best Influencer for Gigi Gorgeous. “The entire Getty family is so thrilled to support this event and the Blade Foundation. I am particularly honored to accept their awards for them. Ariadne, August, Nats and Gigi are in Davos doing the hard work of advocating our issues to governments and corporations around the world, which is exactly why they deserve our gratitude and thanks.”
The next special presentation helped emphasize the connection between local and national communities, as the award for Best Elected Official was accepted by West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey Horvath.
“This has been a dark time,” she said, referring to the shift in political atmosphere since the 2016 election that brought us Donald Trump, “and yet in our community, we have kept fighting. We stand together as a community, we stand together for each other, we’re not going back. We’re not going back into the closets, we’re not going into the back alleys, we’re not going anywhere! We’re staying right here, in West Hollywood, and we will take to the streets today, and every day, until we have equal rights for everybody, because that’s who we are as a community.”
She concluded by saying, “We have so many people who make this community a special place. That you chose me for this honor is not something that I will hang as an award on my wall, but a reminder that there is work to be done, and I want to do it with you.”
Another reminder of how community bonds extend into every facet of the larger world took place when the Blade’s Game Changer Award, recognizing an individual who has made breakthroughs in LGBTQ visibility, was presented to former NFL star Jeff Rohrer, who in 2018 became the first NFL player to become part of a same-sex marriage when he wed husband Joshua Ross.
Introducing Rohrer was Charley Walters, Founder and Producer of Gold Meets Golden, an event which brings together celebrities from the worlds of Hollywood and professional athletics to generate awareness and support for sports-related causes. He praised the former Dallas Cowboys player, who had remained closeted during his football career but came out later in life, saying that ever since, “he has made a huge impact for so many people and really blazed the way.”
Rohrer, in his gracious acceptance speech, first acknowledged that his marriage to Ross had “caused a media firestorm.”
“It was unexpected,” he said, “but we are so proud to be a part of being a game changer for our community. It’s affected a lot of people – there’s a lot of folks like me, that were in the closet for most of our life… and then you find somebody you love.”
He went on to add, “The NFL has been so supportive of our community, and we handed them kind of a little blindside with being the first man-and-man same-sex marriage for the NFL – but somebody had to do it, and it was us, and we’re proud to be that person. Know that the NFL has got your back, they’re actually good people, and they’re going to support our community.”
Josh Viner, Founder of Wheels, joined Walters in presenting the Game Changer Award. Wheels, a sponsor of the event, extolled the City of West Hollywood as an incubator of Game Changing technologies, like his company’s electric bike that allows consumers to get around the walkable city car free and without getting into a car. The company unveiled a model Rainbow fleet emblazoned with the proud words Born In WeHo which it continues to negotiate onto the streets in the area.
It was with the final award of the evening – the presentation of the first annual Pat Rocco Award, designated to recognize an individual who has elevated the community while honoring the history and legacy of West Hollywood and LA Pride – that the sense of community seemed to manifest itself most profoundly.
In presenting the award to LA Pride producer Jeff Consoletti, Christopher Street West and LA Pride President Estevan Montemayor said, “Jeff is not just our producer, Jeff is not just our friend – he’s our family,” evoking the idea – shared by so many within the LGBTQ community – of “found” or “chosen” family,” and bringing home the reason why the bonds that tie us together are so strong.
Further, LA Pride Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore lifted up the importance of community history by reminding the audience the award’s namesake, Pat Rocco, was “a man who documented our history and whose work continues to live at One Archives, and in our hearts.”
Montemayor also added, “If you’ve seen the lights out on the Boulevard that the City of West Hollywood copied from Jeff, you can be very proud that this creative mind probably is going to one up everything this year, this June.”
Consoletti, who received the honor for his contributions to that remarkable turnaround of LA Pride from a troubled organization to one of the world’s most well-financed and successful Pride organizations, tied it all together in his speech, when he said, “I’ve lived in this community for a long time, I’ve had a voice behind the scenes for a long time, I’ve really tried hard to make my community proud as I’ve grown as an entrepreneur, I’ve been really fortunate to travel the world and make a lot of change – but to come home and feel that my community is proud of what we are doing right here, is probably the best thing that I can be grateful for.”
The award, far more than simply a reward for a job well done, was a heartfelt “thank you” from a community that has been raised higher by his work.
Indeed, it was a moment in which the mutual appreciation of Consoletti and the crowd around him seemed to perfectly encapsulate the entire purpose of the Blade’s Best of LGBTQ LA event – to celebrate the efforts of those leaders who elevate our community, and, in the celebrating, elevate the entire community itself.
“That’s the whole point of Los Angeles Blade’s Best of LGBTQ Awards,” said Masters.