Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Global Equality in NYC: 17-Year-Old Beats Sting to Climax!

Post-show Jane Lynch talks with the press
Monday night’s climax wasn’t with headliners Sting – who got screams for “Every Breath You Take” – or Patti LuPone’s roaring “Not While I’m Around” – but when 17-year-old openly gay Russian Vladislav Slaviskiy walked confidently on stage to discuss how pleased he was not to be in Russia. You could imagine director Dustin Lance Black smiling big as the audience, teased with clips of “Vlad” telling his story of torture (stoned and even urinated on) at school back in Sochi, now rose to its feet in a prolonged standing ovation to appreciate this aspiring LGBTI activist. We couldn’t help but love him. Musicians and thespians united before the Sochi Olympics to create Uprising of Love to shed light on the LGBTI community in Russia – also help this young man tell his difficult story – and ultimately flee.

Final performance of Englishman in New York
Tonight, with a broader agenda to help all LGBTI people abroad, Uprising directed funds to the Astraea Foundation, giving grants to LGBTI organizations worldwide, in a program called Fueling the Frontlines. Jane Lynch pleaded that we not be blinded from the difficulties faced by gay people abroad by the recent successes gained here at home. Vlad’s story highlighted those difficulties and is part of a documentary organized by Olympian Johnny Weir. Called “To Russia with Love” it will air October 29th on EPIX. Ultimately, Billie Jean King – part of President Obama’s (very gay) U.S.Delegation to Sochi – helped Vlad get a visa and become a student at her alma-mater, Cal State University.

Distributing flyers in Hell's Kitchen
As Vlad tugged at our heart-strings with his struggle to be openly gay in repressive Russia, Kathy Najimy demanded us to open our wallets & pocketbooks for LGBTI people abroad, dividing gays in attendance to the power, A-listers: “donate what you spent on sushi and uber today,” for the party boys: “at least you could donate 3 mojitos,” and (of course) women: “triple the amount you’re about to spend at Bed, Bath & Beyond after your first date.” While distributing flyers for the event, so many people couldn't believe the star-studded line up. Some tourists took convincing but the combo of Sting & Patti brought both gays & straights on board.

Diverse performers included the cast of Witness Uganda with their hit “Njakuangula” - “I will rise,” the first openly lesbian country singer Chely Wright with "It was," Boolywood actress Celina Jaitly singing (for the first time live) the LGBTI advocacy anthem from India, Billy Porter with “I am Changing,” the cast of Once singing the original (amazing) song Melissa Etheridge wrote for the cause - “Uprising” and an incredible rendition of “For Good” with one of the original Elphabas - Stephanie J. Block. The blockbuster list of celebrities – including a video of thanks and support from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – even got a nod from the Wall Street Journal!

Workin' my glutes - Aqua Spin
for LGBTI rights!
Coincidently, the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) also held a fundraising event the next day. Not as glamorous, this low-key fundraiser/exercise class enticed attendees with a unique spin class underwater (Aqua Spin)! Held by IGLHRC's Young Professionals Committee (look for events soon!), the event attracted dozens to show off post-summer tans. With a mission to document specific abuses of LGBTI people abroad and bring this data to the UN and other NGOs and governments, IGLHRC acts as the brains behind the fight for LGBTI people abroad - Uprising of Love might be the brawn, bringing celebrities to attract attention to the cause. Married together both organizations contribute to exposing people to the truth about the LGBTI community.

Jane Lynch ran away before I could get a picture...
While hate and misinformation continues to cause hardship for LGBTI people, it’s most important for us to keep in mind one last critical song from Monday’s Gershwin program, “Tired of the Silence” – from the cast of I Am Harvey Milk – which urges us all to come out. That’s the key, because if we are not understood by our families, friends and colleagues, how else can they understand the LGBTI community. I know it continues to be difficult for my many friends abroad to do this – I stand with them and with Vlad to repeat his last words on stage: he’s not finished because while he’s glad to be in the United States, this is not his home.


But he’s doing pretty well, as he closed the show, center-stage, standing tall and holding Stings hand as they jammed to the final song, “Englishman in New York," with the perfect lyric "Be yourself, no matter what they say."

Give to IGLHRC!

Give to Fueling the Frontlines!

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