RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
Nearly two weeks ago, 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando. To honor them, Logo TV, the cable and satellite network focused on programming for the LGBT community, is dedicating its awards show to the victims. The program is called "Trailblazers," and recognizes celebrities, politicians and activists who've championed LGBT rights. It airs tonight on Logo and VH1, and NPR's Mandalit del Barco was at the taping in New York City.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: St. John the Divine Cathedral was one of the first churches in New York to allow gay marriages. For the award ceremony, Logo transformed it with pink and purple lights illuminating the vaulted ceilings. On stage were candles with the names of each of the victims of the Orlando shootings.
UNIDENTIFIED ARTISTS: (Singing) Each one had a name. Love is patience. Each one had a name. Love is blind.
DEL BARCO: This year's ceremony was dedicated to them, says the president of Logo and VH1, Chris McCarthy.
CHRIS MCCARTHY: Unfortunately, there are 49 members of our community that were murdered, and that hits all of us. It's tragic moments like that that remember that we are a community and that we need to be out and visible and proud.
DEL BARCO: Logo commemorated the late transgender activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson. Also, the Advocate magazine, former tennis star Billie Jean King and a Syrian refugee named Subhi Nahas.
Last year, the 28 year old escaped from a country where he says being openly gay is a death sentence. Nahas told NPR that after ISIS and other extremist groups took power, the hate became even more violent.
SUBHI NAHAS: They started actively target - especially gay men. They started imprisoning them, and they started to take them to the highest building in the city and throw them. And if they don't die, the crowds will stone them to death.
DEL BARCO: Fearing for his life, Nahas says, he made his way to Lebanon, then Turkey and finally to the U.S. with help from the United Nations. He's testified about his experiences to the U.N. Security Council and a Senate hearing on ISIS ideology.
HARVEY FIERSTEIN: The saddest thing for me is how far we moved because of tragedy.
DEL BARCO: Tony Award winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein was also honored. He told NPR the Orlando shooting was all too familiar.
FIERSTEIN: Because we've seen it before. This is not our first gay murder. This is not our first attack on a bar.
DEL BARCO: Fierstein remembers the riots after police raided New York's Stonewall Inn in 1969. He also recalls losing friends during the AIDS crisis. He was an outspoken advocate for a cure.
FIERSTEIN: We weren't just going to say, no, and we weren't just going to be quiet. And we created groups like Act Up and held demonstrations, and got drugs pushed through and found our voices. And it happened, you know, because of a tragedy.
DEL BARCO: Fierstein has another way of responding to tragedy. On Broadway and in Hollywood, he's portrayed and written gay characters and stories such as "Torch Song Trilogy" and "La Cage Aux Folles." Recently, he reworked the lyrics to his musical "Kinky Boots" to mock North Carolina's restroom laws.
FIERSTEIN: So we made a video called "Just Pee Where You Want To Pee." Ain't nobody tell me, baby, where I ought to pee.
DEL BARCO: Now, in light of the Orlando tragedy, the Brooklyn-born 62 year old is advocating for gun control. He says he imagines drag queens overpowering members of the NRA.
FIERSTEIN: So if we had an actual West Side Story kind of dance floor, they would be up one side of the room with their guns, and we'd be on the other side with cha-cha heels. And we'd out-dance them (laughter).
DEL BARCO: That point was emphasized when RuPaul's all-star drag queen serenaded the audience with a song from Fierstein's hit musical, "La Cage Aux Folles."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM WHAT I AM")
RUPAUL: (As character, singing) Life's not worth a damn...
DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM WHAT I AM")
RUPAUL: (As character, singing) Hey, world. I am what... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.