Members and allies of the LGBTQ community gathered Friday in Los Angeles for the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards, which served as both an inspiration and a call to arms.
Kerry Washington, Zendaya, and DC Entertainment were among the honorees on a night meant to highlight the progress being made, even amidst the anti-LGBTQ policies and stances expressed by the Trump administration.
“Sometimes I feel as if we are living through a horrific dream,” admitted Washington, who received the Inspiration Award. “It is a communal nightmare. The flames of terror and exclusion are being ignited by some of our most powerful leaders. These people who have been entrusted with the protection of our rights, the rights of all of us, the rights of we the people, have chosen instead to traffic in hate. We’ve gone from a White House lit in all the colors of pride to a White House that literally preaches division and discrimination. And so sometimes I worry because the stakes are high and fear is rampant.”
Yet, the Scandal star, who was introduced by her “onscreen bae” Tony Goldwyn, sees a better future thanks to the work and promise of the country’s youth, including the GLSEN student hosts in attendance, who – while only in high school – have greatly affected change in their communities. “We need to make sure we don’t get in the way, but that we help them clear the way,” declared Washington. “You are our truest leaders. You point us out of this nightmare and towards that more perfect union. And with your leadership, tonight more than ever before, I know that we will get there.”
A member of that next generation of leaders Washington spoke to was also a special honoree as Zendaya was bestowed the organization’s Gamechanger Award. Telling EW that she “wants people to know me for more than just the last project I did,” the actress, singer, and activist urged her fellow millennials to “understand the power of your voice.”
“I have this platform that I’m standing on, and sometimes when you get there, you realize that your purpose is not to stand up there anymore but to get off and let someone else stand on it,” she proclaimed. “That’s what I will continue to do and continue to push. To every student that is here, I want you to know that I admire you. This award is really for us. Because we are the game-changers. We are the ones who are literally changing the game. We are not playing.”
Before Washington and Zendaya took the stage, Bruce Bozzi delivered the evening’s most powerful and emotional speech. Presented the Champion Award by step-daughter Billie Lourd, The Palm Restaurant Group’s executive vice president reflected on his childhood, where even walking to the bus was a challenge, knowing that bullies awaited him. “When you’re gay, you never forget the first time a group of kids calls you ‘faggot,'” he shared. “And as Billie said to me the other day, there should never be a first time. And she’s right. Nor the shame that travels so deep to your core in lightning speed, piercing your heart when all you want to do is to run. Not only from them but worse, from yourself.”
Bozzi concluded, “This pain taught me how to survive, see the ugly face of cruelty, eventually helping me become the man I am today. Proud to be a gay man who embodies a river of empathy for others given the gift of sensitivity. That boy on the bus will always sit next to me, and we’re linked arm and arm. But now I protect him and our strength stands up for what is right, to make a difference every day.”