Being an ally means a great deal to me and so I am gonna say some stuff and I might be preaching to the choir but I’m gonna say it, not just for us, because on Monday morning, people are gonna click a link to hear what that woman from Scandal said on that awards show. So I think some stuff needs to be said.
There are people in this world who have the full rights of citizenship, in our communities, our countries, around the world, and then there are those of us who, to varying degrees, do not. We don’t have equal access to education, to health care and some other basic liberties like marriage, a fair voting process, fair hiring practices. Now, you would think that those kept from our full rights of citizenship would band together and fight the good fight. But history tells us that no, often, we don’t.
Women, poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, inter-sex people, we have been pitted against each other and made to feel like there are limited seats at the table for those of us that fall into the category of “other.” As a result, we have become afraid of one another. We compete with one another, we judge one another, sometimes we betray one another. Sometimes even within our own communities, we designate who among us is best suited to represent us and who, really, shouldn’t even really be invited to the party. As “others,” we are taught to be successful we must reject those “other ‘others’” or we will never belong.
I know part of why I’m getting this award is because I play characters that belong to segments of society that are often pushed to the margins. Now, as a woman and a person of color, I don’t always have a choice about that. But I’ve also made the choice to participate in the storytelling about the members of the LGBT community. I’ve made the choice to play a lot of different kinds of people, in a lot of different kinds of situations. In my career, I’ve not been afraid of inhabiting characters who are judged and who are misunderstood and who have not been granted full rights of citizenship as human beings.
But here’s the great irony: I don’t decide to play the characters I play as a political choice. Yet the characters I play often do become political statements. Because having your story told as a woman, as a person of color, as a lesbian, or as a trans person or as any member of any disenfranchised community is sadly often still a radical idea. There is so much power in storytelling and there is enormous power in inclusive storytelling and inclusive representations.”
That is why the work of GLAAD is so important. We need more LGBT representation in the media. We need more LGBT characters and more LGBT storytelling. We need more diverse LGBT representation and by that, I mean lots of kinds of different kinds of LGBT people, living all kinds of lives, and this is big—we need more employment of LGBT people in front of and behind the camera!
So in 1997, when Ellen [DeGeneres] made her famous declaration, it took place in an America where the Defense of Marriage Act had just passed months earlier and civil unions were not yet legal in any state. But also remember, just 30 years before that, the Supreme Court was deciding that the ban against interracial marriages was unconstitutional. Up until then, heterosexual people of different races couldn’t marry who they wanted to marry either.
So when black people today tell me that they don’t believe in gay marriage … the first thing that I say is “Please don’t let anybody try to get you to vote against your own best interest by feeding you messages of hate.” And then I say, “You know people used to stay that stuff about you and your love and if we let the government start to legislate love in our lifetime, who do you think is next?”
We can’t say that we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity and the turn a blind eye to the reality of each other’s existence and the truth of each other’s hearts. We must be allies and we must be allies in this business because to be represented is to be humanized and as long as anyone, anywhere is made to feel less human, our very definition of humanity is at stake and we are all vulnerable.
We must see each other, all of us and we must see ourselves, all of us and we have to continue to be bold and break new ground until this is how it is, until we are no longer “firsts” and “exceptions” and “rare” and “unique.” In the real world, being an “other” is the norm. In the real world, the only norm is uniqueness and our media must reflect that. Thank you GLAAD for fighting the good fight. God bless you.