Alex Newell Performs, Young LGBTQ Activists Talk Lady Gaga & Frank Ocean at GLAAD Rising Stars Luncheon

Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for GLAAD
Alex Newell attends the GLAAD Rising Stars Luncheon on May 5, 2017 in New York City. 

On Friday (May 5), GLAAD held its Rising Stars Grants Luncheon to award grants to three college students for their LGBTQ advocacy work. The luncheon was hosted by YouTube personality Tyler Oakley and cumulated in a performance by Alex Newell.

Newell, best known for his role on Glee, has enjoyed chart success with his solo work -- in fact, his song “Kill the Lights” (a collaboration with DJ Cassidy, Jess Glynne and Nile Rodgers) topped the Dance Club Songs chart. He closed the luncheon with a rousing rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s iconic anthem “True Colors.”

“When you sing it, you really listen to it," Newell said about his song choice. "It’s never about the singing when I sing that song -- I’m telling a story. The words in the song speak volumes.”

The GLAAD Rising Stars program empowers and invests in the next generation of LGBTQ change-makers, whose advocacy is transforming their local cities and the culture at large. Grants are awarded annually to LGBTQ youth who champion intersectional issues with their advocacy efforts. They are presented by Coca-Cola, Delta and Turner. This year's recipients included Aisha Bibbs, Monique Swirsky and Joon Park.

“It’s important to keep advocating for these issues. It means that we have to keep existing -- even if we’re in a time that you don’t want to,” Bibbs said about the importance of these grants. “You just want to hide, but you can’t; you need to be seen."

In true Billboard fashion, we asked the recipients to name their favorite LGBTQ musicians:

Lady Gaga has always been such an inspiration,” Swirsky said. “Particularly with how she’s speaking out against sexual assault in the music industry, and how she stands up for women and sexual assault victims. It’s really empowering.”

“I want to second that,” said Joon. “But also, listening to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange really helped me confront my reality.”

“I love Syd Tha Kid from The Internet,” said Bibbs. “I think she’s a great representation for brown or black women that identify as lesbian.”

Gay Pride Month 2017