Kerry Washington Gave a Pretty Damn Powerful Speech on LGBT Rights

March 24th 2015

Laura Donovan

Scandal leading lady Kerry Washington moved many to tears with her powerful Vanguard Award acceptance speech at the 2015 GLAAD Media Awards ceremony. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres handed off the GLAAD ally accolade to Washington, whose speech for the LGBT rights organization resonated with people of all kinds:

"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,'" Washington said. "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."

Washington went on to say that she tries to help marginalized individuals through the art of acting, however scary that might be to others.

"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."

Washington praised the work that GLAAD has done for the LGBT community, adding that the media needs more LGBT representation as well. 

"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!"

According to E! Online, this remark earned Washington a standing ovation. When the applause died down, she mentioned the bravery of DeGeneres's decision to come out as a lesbian in the late 90s, well before multiple states began making news for legalizing same-sex marriage.

"So 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 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." 

Washington wrapped up her thoughtful message by telling the audience, "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."

Washington's remarks are consistent with a new report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) that found LGBT women are at the highest risk of poverty in the U.S., facing violence, harassment, lower pay, and difficulties accessing healthcare. 

Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP, said in a statement that certain LGBT women are especially disadvantaged, "[T]he burden falls most acutely on those who can least afford it: LGBT women raising children, older LGBT women, LGBT women of color, LGBT immigrants, and those LGBT women and families who are already living near or below the poverty line."

Lesbian and bisexual women have a higher chance of ending up in poverty, and Latina and black women in same-sex relationships are three times likelier to be impoverished than their white female counterparts in same-sex couples.

Many businesses, however, have come forward in support of LGBT rights. Several hundred of America's top companies recently came together to sign an amicus brief encouraging the Supreme Court to make same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the U.S.

"Some of the states in which [we] do business make marriage equally available to all of our employees and colleagues; others prohibit marriages between couples of the same sex and refuse to recognize existing same-sex marriages," the brief reads. "This dual regime burdens [businesses]. It creates legal uncertainty and imposes unnecessary costs and administrative complexities on employers, and requires differential employer treatment of employees who are similarly situated save for the state where they reside." 

Next month, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the state-based, same-sex marriage bans. They're slated to make a decision in June.