Inspiration Award honoree Kerry Washington declared her hope for the future at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards, addressing the student leaders packing the room, including a prospective Secretary of Education. “You are collectively helping our country to become a more perfect union and, not just for some of us, but for all of us, all of ‘we the people,’” said the star of ABC’s “Scandal.”
Kerry Washington, Zendaya, DC Entertainment, Bruce Bozzi, and Ose Arheghan were honored at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Oct. 20. Leading the fight for equity in education, GLSEN has advocated for LGBTQ youth for 27 years. From ensuring inclusive school policies to providing resources for students to form GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliance clubs), GLSEN has continually combated and defeated discriminatory efforts in order to shape schools into safe spaces for all young people.
Stars who walked the red carpet included Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Goldwyn, Wilson Cruz, Chyler Leigh, and the creators of Will & Grace, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, pointing to the importance of allies to the LGBTQ community.
One such ally—who has constantly supported the LGBTQ community, as well as many other social and political causes—is Inspiration Award honoree Kerry Washington. Accepting the award, Washington reminded everyone of the true stars that night—the students.
“You are our truest leaders,” Washington said. “You point us out of this nightmare and toward that more perfect union, and with your leadership,tonight, more than ever before, I know that we will get there. So we look to you and we love you and we are grateful.”
Washington also stressed the need for adults to safeguard schools for our youth. “By creating school environments that embrace queer inclusivity, understanding, and acceptance, you not only empower LGBTQ students, you help all students,” she shared. “When you ensure the protection of one, you make space for all.”
Diane Nelson accepted the Visionary Award on behalf of DC Entertainment, a company which has provided visibility for the marginalized through representation of LGBTQ characters with diverse storylines in both television and film. Along with the creation of LGBTQ characters like the first lesbian superhero, Batwoman, DC Entertainment co-published the comic Love is Love after the Pulse nightclub shooting, donating all proceeds to victims and their families.
Nelson acknowledged the importance of visibility and acceptance in her speech. “Slowly but surely we can create change through awareness.” She added, “Understanding and acceptance must come when we stop thinking of how we’re different from one another and spend more time understanding how much we all share.”
Keynote speaker GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard highlighted some of the strides GLSEN has taken for reaching this goal of understanding and acceptance for LGBTQ youth. “31 discriminatory proposals went to state and local authorities…and all 31 were defeated,” she said. Thanks to GLSEN’s advocacy, schools have become safer for all, enabling today’s students to grow into tomorrow’s leaders.
Student Advocate of the Year, Ose Arheghan, exemplifies what it means to be a student leader and activist. Arheghan has fought for LGBTQ rights in education and to protect LGBTQ youth at school, including starting a series focused on LGBTQ diversity for the school’s newspaper. “Providing visibility for queer young folk, especially queer young people of color, shows the larger community that we are here to stay.”
Other activists and humanitarians were also inspirational. Zendaya was honored with the Gamechanger Award and Bruce Bozzi, honored with the Champion Award. Student hosts included Casey Hoke, Marcus Breed, Danny Charney, Nate Fulmer, Marisa Matias, Imani Sims, and Em Gentry, who told the Los Angeles Blade she intends to become the future US Secretary of Education.
Katherine Prescott, mother of Kyler (2000-2015), moved the audience with her speech about the intolerance and bullying transgender students can face in school. Prescott has become one of GLSEN’s biggest advocates after losing her son to suicide, taking her activism to the national level by calling for inclusive transgender guidance and protection in schools during the Obama administration. When the current administration revoked this protection, she then sat down with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to explain the harm of these discriminatory actions, obtaining a promise of protection for trans students. “How do we hold her accountable?” she asked. “By supporting organizations like GLSEN, who want to make sure what happened to Kyler never happens to another student.”
“When I think about what inspires me, it’s education.” Em Gentry shared her specific goals for achieving equity in education, including the dismantling of bisexual erasure and biphobia, as well as inclusive education. “When I become Secretary of Education, my first action will be to establish school guidelines requiring comprehensive sex education that is inclusive,” she said.
Gentry’s goals of intersectional education equity include representing and advocating for all students. “I also want to educate people on mental illnesses and how it affects many people in the queer community, and how breaking down the stigmas that surround them are the only way to continue to inspire others,” she shared. When asked how GLSEN has impacted her personally, Gentry responded with the selfless grace of a true leader. “The biggest thing that GLSEN has done for me is giving me a platform to help other people with.”