LOS ANGELES – In the spirit of awards season, African Americans in the LGBTQ community took their bows and trophies at the inaugural Truth Awards on Saturday, March 28, 2015 at the historic Ebell of Los Angeles. No envelopes were needed because all names called that night were winners. Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, The DIVA Foundation and Better Brothers Los Angeles presented the first-ever Truth Awards, celebrating openly gay and lesbian African Americans, whose accomplishments have positively impacted the perception of the Black LGBTQ community. One by one, the honorees took the stage and shared “their truth,” trials and tribulation of being Black and gay in America. The event was sponsored by Gilead, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and the generous support of businessman and activist Gerard McCallum.
There were plenty of gay jokes to be had, thanks to co-hosts — actress Cocoa Brown (Tyler Perry’s “For Better or Worse”) and award-winning comedian Sampson McCormick. McCormick recently released his comedy album, “That Bitch Better Be Funny: Live at the Howard Theatre,” making history as the first openly gay comic to headline the historic venue in Washington, DC. And that “bitch” was pretty, darn funny and a little raunchy at times. But the two kept the crowd amused and entertained. And speaking of the crowd, there were plenty of physically-fit and buffed beautiful people, wearing designer duds, including presenter Jason J. Carter, a member of the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” pit crew. Although he’s normally in underwear for the reality show, he decided to dress to the nines for the Truth Awards.
Black Hollywood and allies in the gay community came out in full force to represent their friends and colleagues, including dignitaries, the Honorable Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles. Highlights included:
· Award-winning actress, Sheryl Lee Ralph, talked about her support of the LGBTQ community from her early days on Broadway as a dreamgirl, and how folks in the industry admonished her for caring about “those people.”
· Honoree Darren “Buttah Man” Brin quipped he would have came out sooner if he’d known someone was going to throw him a black-tie party and give him an award.
· Comedienne/actress/reality star Kym Whitley (OWN’s “Raising Whitley”) called honoree Wendell James her “Hollywood husband,” explaining she has all the financial benefits of marriage without the sex. James promised Whitley that he’d keep the coins coming!
· R & B singer Angie Fisher presented to honoree B. Slade by performing her Grammy-nominated song I.R.S., shattering a few glasses with the high notes and bringing the audience to a rousing standing ovation. (B. Slade wrote and co-produced Fisher’s debut hit single, which received a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance.)
· Actress and presenter Tisha Campbell-Martin (“My Wife and Kids,” “Martin”) compared honoree B. Slade — formerly known as the moniker Tonéx — as kind of a Lady Gaga of gospel music for his innovation and stage presence; and then B. Slade gave the audience an impromptu show – that is, singing, dancing, and gyrating to the beat of the band!
· Still, all hailed the queen of the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles – that is, Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Jewel Thais-Williams. Williams founded the Catch One Night Club in 1972. It’s the oldest Black-owned gay and lesbian club in the country, and many said they met their partners there.
The Truth Awards will benefit the DIVA Foundation and its partnership with Better Brothers LA with several initiatives aimed at affirming and strengthening the African American LGBTQ community educationally, financially, physically and socially. Proceeds will also benefit the Better Brothers LA Book Scholarship and other programming needs of the organization. For more information about the organization and its scholarship program, visit http://www.BetterBrothersLA.com
2015 TRUTH AWARDS HONOREES::
· JEWEL THAIS-WILLIAMS — Lifetime Achievement Award – a club owner and health care practitioner. Williams opened Jewel’s Catch One Night Club in 1972, making it the oldest Black-owned gay and lesbian club in the country. Williams also co-founded the Minority AIDS Project, the Imani Unidos Food Pantry in South Los Angeles and Rue’s House, the first housing facility for women with AIDS and their children in the United States. In 2001, she founded the Village Health Foundation to offer health and hope to the un- and under-insured. But more courageously, she befriended the LGBT community — initially hit with HIV/AIDS pandemic – providing a safe haven for those stricken with the deadly disease.
· STANLEY BENNETT CLAY – Lifetime Achievement Award – as an award-winning actor, author, journalist and playwright, Clay is certainly a quadruple threat. Among his many accomplishments, his role in the television movie “Minstrel Man” turned him into an instant matinee idol, causing his handlers to advise him to hide his sexuality from the general public. He refused, gave up his onscreen acting career, pursued writing and a stage career, and won the NAACP Best Actor Image Award for his performance in “Anna Lucasta.” He was also nominated for the same award for his performance in “Zooman and the Sign.” Clay went on to write, direct and co-produce his first full-length play, “Ritual.” It earned him several awards, including the L.A. Times Critics’ Choice and L.A. Weekly “Pick-of-the-Week” mentions. The film version, written and directed by Clay, nabbed him the Jury Award at the Pan African Film Festival.
· WENDELL JAMES – Philanthropy Award – a reality star, James is known as much for his fashion sense as well as his giving heart. He’s been an advocate and fundraiser for HIV/AIDS awareness, hosting the DIVA Foundation’s DIVAS Simply Singing benefit for the past six years. His philanthropic efforts have supported the Kiki Shepard’s KIIS Foundation (for Sickle cell anemia awareness), the Mablean Ephraim Foundation (scholarship fund), the New Image Emergency Shelter (homeless shelter), the Rowell Foster Children’s Foundation (foster care awareness) and the Reed for Hope Foundation (disease prevention and wellness education).
· VALLERIE D. WAGNER – Advocate Award — as the COO of the AIDS Project LA (APLA), Wagner manages the operation of three federally-qualified health centers, providing primary medical care, oral health care, and behavioral health services to LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities in Los Angeles County. A tireless advocate for the human rights of the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS, Wagner has worked with culturally and linguistically diverse populations locally, nationally, and internationally for more than 30 years.
· DR. WILBERT C. JORDAN, MD, MPH – Advocate Award — the founder of the Oasis Clinic in 2000, Dr. Jordan received the Surgeon General’s Award for his work with HIV. He’s dedicated his career to working with HIV/AIDS awareness in the African-American community, and he’s one of the first health practitioners to work and treat patients with the life-threatening disease. A Harvard graduate, he has been involved with the AIDS epidemic from its earliest discovery and detection. In 1983, he reported the first heterosexual case of HIV in Los Angeles County. The next year, he started the AIDS Clinic at King-Drew Medical Center, now known as the OASIS Clinic. He has treated more than 3,000 patients.
· DEONDRAY AND QUINCY GOSSFIELD – Culture and Arts Award — known as the creators and directors of the 2008 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Television Anthology, “The DL Chronicles,” Deondray and Quincy LeNear Gossfield have been friends, collaborators, partners and now husbands for more than 18 years. Interestingly, the couple showcased their commitment to each other with marriage at the 2014 Grammy Awards. The Gossfields are also two of the producers for the hit reality competition shows, “Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew” on MTV, “The Sing Off” on NBC, and “Face Off” on SyFy. Their latest show, “The World Dog Awards” on the CW, which honors man’s best friend, was such a hit with pet lovers that it’s getting renewed for a second special in 2016.
· B. SLADE — Courage Award – an award-winning producer, singer and songwriter, B. Slade has released several hundred songs on more than 30 albums, while producing several others for both gospel and secular artists. He has won seven Stellar Awards, a GMA Award and nabbed three Grammy nominations – including Best Soul Gospel Album for his 2004 gold album, “Out The Box;” Best Urban/Soul Alternative Performance for his single, “Blend” in 2009; and for writing and co-producing Angie Fisher’s debut hit single, “I.R.S.” last year, which received a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
· DARREN “Buttah Man” BRIN – Courage Award – the director of music and development at BET, Buttah Man oversaw the music for the long-running show “106 & Park” and other music properties for BET. Prior to BET, he worked in the music and talent department at MTV, and launched MTV Jams, successfully building the brand into one of the most recognizable channels for hip hop music. He also created, produced and hosted the first nationally-televised hip hop game show “Hoodfab,” which aired on MTV Jams, MTV2, Mobile and MTV.com.
· DR. TENIKA JACKSON – Mentor Award – a community activist and clinical psychologist, Dr. Jackson and her wife was featured in the “Love Section” of Jet magazine in 2011, making them the second lesbian couple to be featured in that section of the publication. Last year, she was showcased in the book “Dark Girls,” by award-winning director Bill Duke, a companion piece to his documentary of the same name, which explores the prejudices of dark-skinned women around the world.
· STEPHEN THOMAS AND GLEN LAWRENCE – Mentor Award – Thomas and Lawrence started their partnership together on the dance floor of the Catch One Night Club. That 33-year romance culminated in their marriage in August 2014. For Thomas and Lawrence, mentoring is more than just being a leader, it’s about being a friend. It’s the ability to listen without judgment; to counsel openly and frankly; to be patient, forthright and caring. Their commitment and dedication to young people, struggling with and accepting their sexual orientation, have made a positive impact in the LGBTQ community.
· BENJAMIN CORY JONES – Passing the Torch Award – a writer on Amazon’s new series “Hand of God” and creator of HBO’s “Bros.” In 2013, Jones was selected to participate in the prestigious ABC Television Writing Program and was a staff writer on the ABC family drama series, “Chasing Life.” He was also the writers’ assistant/script coordinator on ABC’s “American Crime” with Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley. Jones recently produced a pilot presentation, for a semi-autobiographical show, called “Bros,” which is now in development as a comedy series at HBO.