The Telluride AIDS Benefit Fashion Week culminates tomorrow (Saturday) at the Telluride Conference Center with the Gala Fashion Show, beginning at 8 p.m. The 2020 show — the 27th annual Telluride AIDS Benefit — promises TAB’s trademark mix of pageantry, fashion and fun, all for a cause.
TAB’s organizers have sprinkled a little stardust over this year’s affair by recruiting Frankie Grande, a multi-talented actor, performer, designer and activist who, like the AIDS Benefit itself, deftly blends art and activism.
Grande, who features on the 2020 TAB catwalk as a model and dancer, is a showbiz magpie with a lengthy resumé that includes theatrical roles on Broadway and in Hollywood and extensive work as a vocalist, dancer, actor, social media influencer and designer. His TV appearances run the gamut from critiquing red-carpet fashion for the “Today” show, to Amazon’s “Style Code Live,” to reality shows “Big Brother” and “Celebrity Big Brother UK,” and in series like “Indoor Boys” and “Henry Danger.”
Most recently, Grande released a single, “I Got Me,” and has been appearing on stage reprising the role of Franz in the Los Angeles-based theatrical production of “Rock of Ages,” a role Grande originally played on Broadway.
Recently, the show’s producers asked Grande to extend his run until May. According to the actor, he agreed on one condition.
“It was a ‘yes’, as long as they gave me this week off to come to Telluride and appear in the Telluride AIDS Benefit,” he said.
For her part, TAB Executive Director Jessica Galbo commented that she and Artistic Director Katy Parnello are thrilled — and grateful — that Grande is performing at this year’s fashion show.
“We’re honored that Frankie was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to donate his time and support the important work of the Telluride AIDS Benefit,” she said.
In talking to Grande, an openly gay man whose advocacy work centers around LGBTQ issues and HIV and AIDS awareness, it’s pretty clear that he and TAB are a good fit.
“It’s very conscious on my part,” Grande said of combining art and advocacy. “I think as artists, we are the people who have been gifted with a method of communication that is beyond just words. We can convince, we can enlighten, we can bring people over to our side and we can step over to their side and communicate through art.”
He continued, “I feel like artists have traditionally been at the forefront of advocacy and speaking up for the underdog, and I have always felt that, as an artist with a platform, it is my responsibility to advocate.”
Grande’s advocacy work is a little like his professional career: diverse.
In 2007, he co-founded an arts nonprofit called Broadway in South Africa, which brought arts education to disadvantaged young South Africans. After the nonprofit merged with buildOn, an organization that builds new schools and fundraises for education and literacy projects, Grande stayed on, working school construction projects in rural villages in Malawi.
Grande also advocates for the LGBTQ community, and is active in the fight against HIV and AIDS and supporting those affected by HIV and AIDS through his participation in events like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Broadway Sings for Pride.
Next up, Grande said, he begins training for the AIDS/LifeCycle, a seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that raises funds for the Los Angeles LGBT Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. This year will be his third year taking part in the event.
Grande said that it isn’t difficult to take time out from work to support causes that are important to him.
“As an outspoken, homosexual man who is a part of the LGBTQ community, I do a lot of work on behalf of my community,” he explained. “Throughout my career, I have met a lot of amazing people and amazing organizations. When they reach out to me, I make it a point to say yes as much as I humanly can. Helping people is what drives me. It’s what keeps me sane. I think I am happiest when I am giving back.”
Perhaps the overlap between Grande’s art and advocacy work is best illustrated by his decision to release his recent single “I Got Me” via the gaming platform Twitch to coincide with the launch of Grande’s new gaming channel with his boyfriend, Hale Leon.
Grande remarked that he wanted to show the traditionally white, cisgender, straight, male-dominated gaming industry that gamers from a variety of backgrounds, including two openly gay creators, can thrive within the industry and on platforms like Twitch.
Said Grande, “When we went to E3, a gaming convention, I was like ‘Wow, no one here looks like us. That can’t be true.’ But it was true. So, in effort to represent a group that I felt didn’t feel was adequately represented and to be part of the conversation, Hale and I moved into Twitch.”
He added, “I think that it is the duty of people like me, who have the privilege of living out loud and proud, to be that beacon of rainbow light and to show other people a way in.”
Showing LGBTQ youth a way into the wider LGBTQ community is particularly meaningful, he said.
“I have a message for young people and it’s not a fluffy one,” Grande said. “You have to live your truth and the more people you allow to see your truth, the happier you will be as a person. Sometimes when you come out, though, the people you end up calling your family will not be your biological family, they will be your chosen family, the ones who love you for who you truly are. Living a lie with people who only love for you because of a lie is no life. I tell people to come out and allow the LGBTQ community to embrace you. Allow us to do that, but be smart, too. Don’t come out in a dangerous situation. Be careful and be smart.”
Grande’s advocacy also extends to urging everyone, not just those in the LGBTQ community, to get tested regularly.
“Know your status, know your status, know your status, and when you know your status, don’t be afraid to share it,” he said.
It’s busy work, this mix of art and advocacy, but Grande confessed to taking a little time away from rehearsing and other work this week, for some time on the slopes.
“I’ve skied all my life and I definitely want to ski while I’m here,” he said. “I mean, it’s Telluride, right?”
For more on the Gala Fashion Show, wrap party and other TAB events, including Know Your Status, which takes place Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Wilkinson Public Library, and the Trunk Show on Monday, visit tellurideaidsbenefit.org.