Ricky Martin once sang about "livin' la vida loca," but there is something undeniably more calm about the man whose hip-swiveling performances made him a pop icon more than a decade ago.
The Latin crooner may once again find himself working at a full-steam pace that recalls his late-1990s heyday -- he's scheduled to embark on a world tour next month just before going into rehearsals for next year's Broadway revival of "Evita" -- all while juggling fatherhood. But as he strolls the red carpet at the 22nd annual Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Awards Saturday night, the star insists he's leading a life not crazy, but renewed.
"Forget about being a celebrity; it's about being you," says a casually-dressed Martin, who received the 2011 Vito Russo Award, the night's highest honor, for increasing awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. Having described his decision to come forward about his sexuality as an "intense" process, he adds, "There's nothing like being honest and transparent about who you are. It's easier for some, harder for others, but once you do it, it's so amazing."
Though his arrival generates a media frenzy, Martin was just one of many stars in attendance at GLAAD's event, which honors entertainers, playwrights and journalists for their efforts in promoting equal rights for LGBT citizens. While a poignant series of speeches and video montages addressed incidents of public discrimination as well as the anti-gay bullying which led to last fall's spate of teen suicides, most attendees filling the lavish ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Times Square were simply there to celebrate.
Among them was Tina Fey, who accepted an award for the "Klaus and Greta" episode of "30 Rock" which featured a storyline involving Liz Lemon (Fey) and her gay cousin. "Jokes are tricky things, [but] '30 Rock' has nothing but respect for the LGBT community," Fey said. "The thing I'm most proud of about this show [is that it is] a truly inclusive and diverse workplace." The recipient of this year's Excellence In Media award, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons felt similarly. While noting his efforts in other areas of civil rights are perhaps better known, he says has always focused on embracing diversity. "I fight Islamophobia, but I'm not a Muslim...I fight anti-Semitism, but I'm not a Jew," Simmons, who recently took part in the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign, said. "I'm a servant...the rights that I take for granted are no better than the rights [I hope to give] to others."
Though the star power was further bolstered by the presence of "True Blood" actor Denis O'Hare (who accepted the award for Best Drama Series) and "Jersey Shore" housemate Vinny Guadagnino, other winners comprised media professionals whose work in promoting LGBT issues takes place in more expository ways. These included CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" for an episode focused on the gay teen suicides and Essence.com for "Bridal Bliss: Aisha and Danielle," a multimedia same-sex marriage feature. "The most impactful way to create change is through the media," GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios said of those honorees. Acknowledging the use of social media in LGBT-specific campaigns, he added, "The media has changed dramatically even if, unfortunately, the issues themselves really haven't. Words and images still matter."
A thumping after party drew attendees to the dance floor, including actor Wilson Cruz, whose groundbreaking portrayal of gay teen Rickie Vasquez on 1994's cult favorite "My So-Called Life" is considered a benchmark in LGBT entertainment. So what does Cruz think of hit shows like "Glee" and "Modern Family," which feature prominent gay characters? "Where we are with gays on television is a natural progression of where we left it on 'My So-Called Life,'" says Cruz. As for the buzz surrounding "Glee" and its portrayal of a gay relationship between high schoolers, he adds, "I think what they're doing for teens is just beautiful...it's just taken a little longer than we thought it would take."
For the full list of 2011 GLAAD Award winners, click here.