Anderson Cooper hosted the Josh Wood-produced event that this year saw honorees Miley Cyrus and Andy Cohen recognized for their commitment to envisioning an HIV-free world by 2020.
Stars including Laverne Cox, Heidi Klum, Ellen Barkin, Tyson Beckford, Sandra Bernhard, Billy Eichner, Brad Goreski, and Alexander Wang, were in attendance for the intimate dinner which featured an auction (including the first autographed Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover which sold for a whopping $69,000) as well as a performance by R&B legend Mary J. Blige.
“Most people sign a contract and say they’ll make six appearances,” says the evening’s producer, Josh Wood. “Whereas someone like Miley not only knows about HIV/AIDS but goes on the frontline using her platform of celebrity to get people engaged in a dialogue. Andy, on the other hand, is one of the most philanthropic guys I know. He’s like an old-school nice jewish boy where he’s used to being involved with charities and donating not just money, but his time.”
Bernhard, who was their to introduce her friend Cohen, slithered down the red carpet with her hands permanently affixed to her forehead to block out the sun. Asked about the pending historic Marriage Equality case, Bernhard offered, “We have to keep up with the times and America should be on the forefront of human rights. They haven’t always been so hopefully they’ll get with the program.” Bernhard expressed her excitement about officiating her pal Lea DeLaria’s wedding next year.
Laverne Cox, radiating the light in a black Michael Costello gown with an elongated slit, was all smiles, but got serious talking about the continued struggle to affect change. “We’re at an unprecedented level of visibility for trans folks but the National Coalition Of Anti Violence Program just released their annual report and violence against trans people of color, particularly trans women of color, is up 13% from last year’s report. We’re still committing suicide at crazy high rates. Our lives are still being put in danger for being who we are. LGBT civil rights has to be an intersectional movement; it has to be about social justice for everyone.”
Actor/model Tyson Beckford expressed why clearing his schedule to attend the evening’s proceedings was so important to him. “I’ve lost friends to HIV and been a longtime supporter of the LGBT community long before it was cool. It’s so good to see how we’re advancing. It’s dinner’s like this that make a difference. By showing up, it lets people know that you care. We’re all human at the end of the day.”
Brad Goreski talked about his memories of the AIDS outbreak as a young boy. “My father gave me a book. I still remember it. It was orange, black, and green on the cover and it said ‘What is AIDS?’ I think now people think that there’s a cure for HIV and AIDS and there are not. Education for the younger generation is what’s important because they didn’t grow up losing their community. I urge young LGBT youth to learn their history. It’s staggering what happened and it’s amazing that we’ve made leaps and bounds and getting closer to a cure but we still need to be practicing safe sex.
Inside, Cooper opened the evening with an attempted laugh. “It’s great to see so many formative members of New York’s gay community here tonight. Y’all do realize this is not a Ted Cruz fundraiser, don’t you? Too soon? Really? OK, too soon.”
Sandra Bernhard then took the stage to introduce her pal, Andy Cohen.
“Andy’s my good friend. We’ve had conversations in the clubhouse that rival John and Yoko. I like to think of Andy as the Dick Cavett of the new millennium. He’s brought culture to new places we never thought possible and turned feminism on its ear... Andy wasn’t really prepared for his philanthropic work until he experienced the deep emotional turmoil of those housewives. Like a shaman, a new age healer, a magical guru, he brought enlightenment whether navigating the fragile atmosphere during Dorinda’s 50th, feeling like Brandi’s gone from friend to foe, or deconstructing Vicki’s party, where the pinata wasn’t the only thing getting bashed… The St. Louis Cardinals love him and so do I because he’s a nice Jewish boy.”
Then Cohen took the stage to accept his amfAR Award of Inspiration.
“When I moved to New York City in 1990, I was so excited to be here I didn’t get much sleep. I was a gay 22-year-old taking advantage of everything the city had to offer and I was also terrified. I was really terrified that I was going to get sick and die," he said. "Gay men everywhere were dying in droves. It seemed like a forgone conclusion. What’s different 25 years later is that we have powerful drugs that are keeping people alive, allowing people with HIV to live a relatively normal lifespan. But what hasn’t changed is that today, gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV.”
Introducing Cyrus was her date for the evening, Tyler Ford, one of the subjects of Happy Hippie’s most recent project #InstaPride, a photo series that launched Monday on Instagram.
“Everytime I talk with Miley I am amazed by her honesty and openness. She’s one of those people who whenever she speaks, I want to take her hand and say, ‘Me too.’ It’s not that I agree with everything she says, it’s that I can feel where she’s coming from," Ford said. "I see myself reflected in her because she makes the deepest parts of her accessible and brings what is buried in all of us to the surface: The desire to share love, a constant sense of wonder and excitement about this world and about life, and a belief that anything is possible when we are true to ourselves, open ourselves up to others, and when we help one another. I am inspired by the fact that she is not afraid to hold her heart in her hands or share that heart with anyone who needs it.”
The second amfAR Award of Inspiration for the evening was then presented to Miley Cyrus, who took the stage to thundering cheers and an immediate standing ovation from the crowd.
“Getting the inspiration award tonight is unbelievable. Seriously, I didn’t believe them when they told me I got it because it seems just way too easy and it seems that there’s just no way that I have done nearly enough to be standing here on the receiving end of this honor," Cyrus said. "There are so many people around the world right now that deserve this recognition and they’ve dedicated their lives to finding a cure for living with HIV/AIDS, using their voices to speak out against the brutal and unfair condemnation and abominable stigma that comes with this disease. By receiving this award tonight, I promise to continue to fight along with such an industrious army to find a cure for this epidemic.”