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A Voice for Acceptance

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The wisecracking, tough-talking Cyndi Lauper people know from Celebrity Apprentice is not the one who recently visited the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City. Sincere and soft-spoken, the singer had just one question for the members of the center’s Youth Enrichment Services program: “What can I do to help you?” Two requests: raise awareness about equality issues and help parents to become more open-minded. “I will try my best,” Lauper promised. “I know if I can make a big stink, I can inspire other people.”

She already has. Next summer a permanent housing facility for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths ages 18 to 24-called the True Colors Residence in honor of Lauper and her anthem of acceptance-is expected to open in Central Harlem. It’s the first of its kind in New York State. Says vice-chair Colleen Jackson, executive director of the West End Intergenerational Residence: “Without her, the residence definitely would not be built.”

In fact, the residence became a reality thanks in part to a conversation between Jackson and the singer, who was saddened after spotting homeless LGBT kids at one of the city’s piers a few years ago. “It really broke my heart,” says Lauper, noting that 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population are LGBT, many of whom are runaways or were kicked out of their homes. “I couldn’t stand by as kids get thrown out and discriminated against.” Adds Jackson: “Cyndi was a catalyst that made me decide we have to do this.”

Lauper, whose two-year-old True Colors Fund will provide financial support for the city-funded residence, has been an ally of the LGBT community her entire life: Not only are her older sister Elen and many of her friends and fans gay, but the Grammy winner (who just earned another nod for her album Memphis Blues) was considered “different” by other kids. “I was a freak,” says Lauper, 57, who has a 13-year-old son with her husband, David Thornton. “I had rocks thrown at me because of the way I dressed.”

To combat that fear and hate-and perhaps keep kids from getting thrown out by their parents-her fund launched the Give a Damn Campaign in April “to call out to other straight people and show them the real things at stake,” says Lauper. The campaign’s site is packed with PSAs featuring celebs such as Elton John and Kim Kardashian, as well as sections about workplace discrimination, gay marriage and other issues. Says Lauper: “Information is power.”

So is her support. Eli Medina, 19, a gay high school senior in Norman, Okla., who left his family home last year, met Lauper when she mentored him for an upcoming episode of MTV’s Made. “Without people like Cyndi, we’d have nothing,” says Medina, who will appear in a Give a Damn PSA about homelessness. “There’d be no one to speak out for us.”