The award-winning actress spoke of the importance of equality, the work of the HRC and the bigotry of the new US government.
“I am grateful to this incredible organization for what you’ve done, in such a smart, systematic and strategic way, to secure and safeguard the fundamental rights of LGBTQ Americans,” she said. "Much of the credit for the advances in acceptance, advocacy and law comes in a straight line from your efforts. When I was a young girl growing up in middle-class New Jersey, my entire artistic life was curated by people who lived in the straightjacket of conformist suburban life. The goal was to put pennies in your loafers, to look alike and act alike. Standing out, being different was like drawing a target on your forehead. You had to have a special kind of courage to do it. Some of my teachers were obliged to live their whole lives hidden, covertly.
“Human life has been organized in a certain way, the hierarchies set, who’s in charge, who makes the laws and who enforces them, pretty much the same way for, oh, about 40,000 years. Yes, I know, there were a small number of matrilineal cultures, some outliers who were more tolerant of difference, some so-called democracies 2,000 years ago (who excluded women and slaves, of course), but pretty much, throughout history, might made right, the biggest and richest and baddest was the best, and “The Man” was pretty much always a man. But suddenly, at one point in the 20th century, for reasons I can’t possibly enumerate in my two remaining minutes, the clouds parted. Something changed. For the first time in 39,999 years, women began to be regarded as, if not equal, at least deserving of equal rights. Men and women of color demanded their equal rights. People of sexual orientation and gender identification outside the status quo also demanded equal regard under the law.
“Which brings us to now. We should not be surprised that fundamentalists, of every stripe, are exercised and fuming. We should not be surprised that these profound changes come at a steeper cost than we originally thought. We should not be surprised that not everyone is actually cool with it.
“If we live through this precarious moment, if his catastrophic instinct to retaliate doesn’t lead us to nuclear winter, we will have much to thank our current leader for. He will have woken us up to how fragile freedom is. His whisperers will have alerted us to potential flaws in the balance of power in government. To how we have relied on the goodwill and selflessness of most previous occupants of the Oval Office. How quaint notions of custom, honor and duty compelled them to adhere to certain practices of transparency and responsibility. To how it all can be ignored. How the authority of the executive, in the hands of a self-dealer, can be wielded against the people, their Constitution and Bill of Rights. The whip of the executive, through a Twitter feed, can lash and intimidate, punish and humiliate, delegitimize the press and imagined enemies with spasmodic regularity and easily provoked predictability.
“Here we are in 2017, the year the browser seems to have gone down. In danger of losing much of our information, we seem to be reverting to factory settings. But we are not going to go back to the bad old days of ignorance and harassment, oppression and hiding who we are. Because we owe it to the people who have died for our rights (and who died before they got their own). We owe it to the pioneers of the LGBTQ movement, like Paula Grossman, and to the people on the frontlines of all civil-rights movements, not to let them down.
“Yes, I am the most overrated, overdecorated and, currently, over-berated actress, who likes football, of my generation. But that is why you invited me here! Right?
“The weight of all these honors is part of what brings me to this podium. It compels me, against my normal instinct (which is to stay home), it compels me to stand up in front of people and say words that haven’t been written for me, but that come from my life and my conviction and that I have to stand by. It’s hard to stand up. I don’t want to do it. I want to read and garden and load the dishwasher. It’s embarrassing and terrifying to put the target on your forehead. And it sets you up for troll attacks and armies of brownshirt bots and worse, and the only way you can do it is if you feel you have to. You have to. You have no choice, but you have to speak up and stand up and act up.”