On Saturday night at a New York gala for LGBTQ civil rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, Meryl Streep accepted the National Ally For Equality Award.
In a powerful, emotional and at times funny acceptance speech, Streep defended her January Golden Globe’s anti-Trump tirade and addressed his twitter response labelling her ‘overrated’.
But more importantly, she dedicated the award to “my gay and trans teachers, colleagues, agents, mentors and friends, who should take the credit (or the blame) for my being here tonight because they taught me from a very young age, and continue to remind me every day, the very best lesson: to be myself and to take joy in my work and in my life.”
Streep spoke of the pressure to conform during her childhood in suburban New Jersey in the late 50’s and early 60’s. ”Standing out, being different was like drawing a target on your forehead. You had to have a special kind of courage to do it.”
At a time when protections for trans students are under threat from Donald Trump’s new attorney general, Streep spoke at length about one of America’s first transgendered women, her sixth and seventh grade music teacher, Paul Grossman, “one of the bravest people I knew.”
Paul was fired from his teaching job after he transitioned and returned to work as Paula Grossman. Streep detailed Paula’s seven year court battle which ended in defeat in the Supreme Court but “set the stage for many discrimination cases that followed.”
“But I remember her as Mr Grossman, and I remember when he took us on a field trip to the Statue of Liberty in 1961. Our whole class stood at the feet of that beautiful woman and sang a song he had taught us, with lyrics taken from the poem engraved at the base of the monument.
I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but I remember the song Mr Grossman chose to teach us; it stirred my 11-year-old heart then, and it animates my conscience today. She died in 2003, God rest her soul.”
Streep then honoured her piano teacher, George Vauss.
“80 years old in 1965, lived in a little house in the woods in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, with his partner, Phil (his lover, my mother told me, of 50 years). His house was a magical place, filled with music, birds and exotica: collectibles from their trips through Central and South America. I am not going to introduce you to all my gay teachers, just some of the most influential personalities in my past, the memorable people who made me an artist and who lived, unnecessarily, under duress.”
Streep praised the progress that women, people of colour, the LGBTIQ community and other minorities made in the fight for equality in the 20th century.
“Amazingly, and, in terms of human history, blazingly fast, culture seemed to have shifted; the old hierarchies and entitlements seemed to have been upended.”
“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.”
And then, inevitably, she turned to Donald Trump. “But 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 this president for. Because he will have woken us up to how fragile freedom really is.”
Streep then spoke of the need for people to stand up and fight to preserve the hard won rights that are under threat.
“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 front lines of all civil-rights movements, not to let them down.”
“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.”
Streep is nominated for her 20th Academy Award for her role as Florence Foster Jenkins. As we await Donald Trump’s reaction to her latest speech, let's keep our fingers crossed that she wins the best actress Oscar on February 26 and makes another.
Read the full transcript of Meryl Streep’s speech.
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