Kerry Washington’s GLAAD Vanguard Award Acceptance Speech

I am truly honored to be here and to be receiving this award. When I was told that 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 gonna say some stuff. And I might be preaching to the choir, but I’m gonna say it, not just for us, but because on Monday morning people are gonna click a link to hear what that woman from Scandal said at that award show and so I think some stuff needs to be said.  

There 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 use who to varying degrees do not. We don’t have equal access to education, to healthcare, 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 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, 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 community, 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 am 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 always have a choice about that; but I’ve also made the choice to participate in storytelling about members at 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 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 in inclusive representation.

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 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 Defensive 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 marriage with unconstitutional. Up until then heterosexual people of different races could 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 that 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 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 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 first 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!