Midway through her speech at the GLAAD Awards, Kerry Washington had people on their feet while she accepted the Vanguard Award, given to a celebrity who has been an ally to the LGBT community. “We have been pitted against each other and made to feel like there are limited seats at the table for those of us who fall into the category of other,” said Washington. “As others, we are taught that to be successful, we must reject those other others, or we will never belong.” Washington’s speech is a smart, thoughtful, and forceful argument for why we need more diverse representations in the media, until there are “no longer firsts and exceptions and rare and unique.” Cheers to that.
[Update] Here’s the full transcript:
Thank you Ellen, thank you Ellen, thank you Ellen, thank you Ellen, so much. We just love having you and your beautiful, extraordinary wife in our Scandal family. It’s a good night for Shondaland up in here. It’s good. So, forgive me, so I thought I was going to have a podium, so I’m going to do this the best I can without one.
I am truly honored to be here and to be receiving this award. When I was told I was going to get an award for being an ally to GLAAD, it got me thinking. Being an ally means a great deal to me, and so I’m going to say some stuff. And I might be preaching to the choir, but I’m going to say it. Not just for us, but because on Monday morning, people are going to click a link to hear what that woman from Scandal said at that award 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, and 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 of us who are kept from our full rights of citizenship would ban 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, intersex people - we have been pitted against each other and made to feel like there are limited seats at the table for those of us who 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 be invited to the party. As “others,” we are taught that 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 as a person of color, I don’t often have a choice about that - but I’ve also made the choice to participate in storytelling about 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, 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, in 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 representations. And by that, I mean lots of different kinds of LGBT people living all different kinds of lives. And this is big—we need more employment of LGBT people in front of and behind the camera.
In 1997, when Ellen 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 thirty years before that, the Supreme Court was deciding that the ban against interracial marriage 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 interests by feeding you messages of hate.” And then I say, “You know, people used to say stuff like that 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 then turn a blind eye to the reality of each other’s existence, and the truth of each others’ 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 being 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 that is just 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.