Human Rights Campaign Gala Brings Together LGBTQ Community in NY
The Human Rights Campaign Greater New York Gala, which took place over the weekend, is an annual event designed to honor, celebrate, and reflect on the organization’s leaders and achievements. The HRC is also the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, with a membership count at a staggering 1.5 million.
The overwhelming sentiment of the evening was the emphasis of the now. In a moment where our political climate feels as unpredictable as it does volatile, now is the time for discussion and action. The LGBTQ community needs to hear affirmation and support from our allies. We need discussion of positionality and perspective, and the profound words from a bevy of speakers did not disappoint. From comedian Seth Meyers to the illustrious Meryl Streep, advocates and supporters of the LGBTQ community came together to discuss their roles of privilege in the world, and address how they would wield this tool in this imperative moment.
The ceremony opened with a speech from Tarell Alvin McCraney, author of the play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. This phenomenal work inspired the award- winning film Moonlight, and McCraney dove right into the discussion of "allyship" as he accepted the Visionary Award on the film’s behalf. He spoke of his relationship with the film’s director and screenwriter, Barry Jenkins, and the degrees of trust that it takes to effectively and honestly curate a queer film. As he so eloquently described, “What if [allyship] meant that we leant our voice to voiceless? What if it meant we gave our hands to those who are being disintegrated by the limits of this world... being an ally means giving voice to the voiceless by passing them the mic, not speaking over them.”
And so the mic continued to be passed -- from one powerful voice to the next. When Meryl Streep came to the podium to accept the National Ally for Equality Aawrd, the crowd erupted in support for the decorated actress, who has notably taken a public stance of opposition in response to our current political climate. Donning a glittering American flag on her lapel, Meryl delivered a deeply intimate speech that delved into the LGBTQ influences of her adolescence. She highlighted the story of her middle school music teacher, Paula Grossman, a transwoman who fought to overcome a multitude of hardships, from being fired to being legally delegitimized in her gender identity. In Meryl’s words, “…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”. She also candidly spoke to the very real desire to hide out, joking that of course it is easier to “stay the f*ck home” than to show up and support those who need it most. But she ended her speech by saying: “It’s embarrassing and terrifying [to stand up] but you have no choice. You have to speak up and stand up and act up.” Right on cue, the crowd went wild.
The night ended on a lighter note with a speech from comedian Seth Meyers, who received the Equality Award for his work on his late night talk show. He joked about having to follow Meryl’s speech which, let’s be real, is an unimaginable pressure. But he did so effectively – discussing his privilege in being a straight, affluent white male, and noting that this award was not for him, but for the members of the LGBTQ community who have paved the way. In discussing his show’s dedication to inclusion, he noted, “We have had the honor to have a few transgender guests on our show, and the conclusion we have drawn is this: It does not take courage to do my job… but it takes a bit of neve. Courage is what it takes for a transgender student to go to high school every day. I am a white male from suburbia, and I cannot imagine what is like to be them. And we must fight for their most basic rights at a time when they most need it.”
To me, the night served as a refreshingly current look at what an inclusive and intersectional LGBTQ community could and should feel like. For far too long, the LGBTQ community has struggled to ensure the inclusion, representation and, most importantly, the voice of all marginalized groups. It is not enough to say that there are voices that need to be heard – as Tarell Alvin McCraney said, it is up to allies to literally hand them the mic. To stand to the side, take note and listen. To understand that they do not need oppressed and silenced groups to be their teachers. To learn, and grow as an ally. To be self-critical.
Having an influential and powerful organization like the HRC adamantly plant the seeds of integrated progress was extremely, extremely important. At a time where the world feels precarious, knowing that we are using this energy of opposition to strive to better our community is a light that we all need to follow. In McCraneys words, “An ally allows the light from the moon to shine on the privileged and the marginalized alike.” Allies, take note.