Cynthia Erivo Opens Up About Claiming Her Queerness and the Impact of ‘Wicked’

The Los Angeles LGBT Center held their annual gala in downtown Los Angles Saturday night, where attendees gathered at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall for a dinner hosted by comedian Joel Kim Booster.

Wicked star Cynthia Erivo was presented with the Rand Schrader award in recognition of her achievements in entertainment and activism championing the LGBTQ+ community. The Emmy, Grammy and Tony award winner was introduced by actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who gushed about Erivo’s “immense talent and spirit” during her remarks.

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“Beyond her artistic achievements, Cynthia is a steadfast advocate helping bring visibility to the intersection of black and queer identity,” Pinkett Smith told the crowd.

“She uses her platform to fight for justice, for love and acceptance, and empowered individuals to live their truth authentically and without fear,” she continued.

Erivo accepted the award to much applause, beginning what would be a moving speech by telling the crowd she felt “extremely loved and held.” The multihyphenate opened up about her own journey embracing her own identity.

“It is a privilege to be on this stage tonight because for so long I lived in deep admiration of anyone who could fully embody their true authentic self, wear their queerness like a feather boa and proudly state ‘This is a beautiful part of who I am,'” Erivo told the crowd, adding that she felt like she had been looking at her “own community from inside the glass box.”

“But now, the glass has shattered,” Erivo said, met with a slew of cheers from the crowd. “There’s no box in sight, and I have walked out into the wide open spaces, into the arms of you all, and it feels like home.”

Erivo got vulnerable with the crowd, sharing that “claiming my queerness in public, and particularly in the public eye, has meant taking a risk” in order to find her own freedom. She also shared that “hiding just a little part” of herself didn’t leave enough room for the iconic women she previously portrayed to “thrive easily.” She told the crowd: “I wanted to live, not just exist.”

Jada Pinkett Smith hands Cynthia Erivo an award on stage at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Annual Gala.
Jada Pinkett Smith presents Cynthia Erivo with the Rand Schrader Award.

Erivo applauded the L.A. LGBT Center, noting the “intensely polarized times” of the moment, along with the center’s work in the community and in fighting anti-LGBTQ+ extremism.

Erivo told the crowd she felt it “no coincidence” that universe urged Wicked director John Chu to take on the task of adapting the beloved musical and that “universe saw fit” for her to play “darling, green Elphaba.”

“As I stand here in front of you: Black, bald-headed, pierced and queer, I can say I know a thing or two about being the other,” Erivo said. “Elphaba’s story is the cautionary tale of what it can sometimes mean to have to stand in your individuality, your otherness, even when systems of oppression are set against you.”

Erivo wrapped up her remarks with some advice for the crowd. “I encourage you to keep rebelling, keep being yourselves, keep showing up, keep encouraging others to show up as themselves too because sometimes people need a little encouragement,” she said.

Earlier in the evening, artist Mickalene Thomas was honored with the Vanguard Award. “Each and every one of us in the room has a responsibility in our own small ways — wherever you are, however we involve ourselves within the community,” Thomas told the crowd.

“It takes one person,” she continued.

The night’s musical guest, pop group MUNA, received the final honor of the night – the Leslie Jordan Award for Excellence in the Arts, named in honor of the late actor. Introduced by singer-songwriter Jewel, the trio (comprised of members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson) accepted the award with a short speech.

Katie Gavin of MUNA sings onstage with Jewel in front of a pink backdrop.
Katie Gavin of MUNA and Jewel perform onstage during the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Annual Gala.

“Our queerness is about working toward so many things that feel hard to imagine,” Gavin, the group’s lead singer, told the crowd. “About working towards the abolition of the punitive prison system, the end of environmental and systemic racism, free healthcare, permanently affordable housing and access to birth control and hormone therapy and hormone therapy and gender affirming care.”

The trio followed up their speech with a short performance. In a surprise move, Jewel joined the group onstage for a performance of MUNA’s 2022 single, “Silk Chiffon.”

Saturday’s gala raised $1.6 million for the L.A. LGBT Center. The organization, which first opened in 1969, offers programs and services to members of the LGBTQ+ community in four categories: health, social services and housing, culture and education and leadership and advocacy.

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