The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) came to Atlanta last night (November 9) for the 2018 GLAAD Gala. The event was more than just a fundraiser; it was a celebration of the work GLAAD has done to share LGBTQ stories and ensure representation from the media to politics. Also celebrated were local and national LGBTQ advocates, storytellers, leaders, and heroes.
The night included stories from Michelle LeClair and Tena Clark, a review of the Rainbow Wave we saw in this past election from GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, and an awarding of Amiyah Scott, transgender actress and activist, with GLAAD’s Rising Star Award.
“This is not just a night celebrating the incredible work [of GLAAD],” said Kat Graham – actress, singer, social media influencer, and the host of the event – as she kicked off the night, “but it’s to remember our power and our voice and our time to keep fighting.”
“We have inherent rights as human beings to love and be, period,” she continued. “We are here to challenge the hate and say, ‘Stand down’. We are here to say, ‘No more!’”
“We exist, and you can’t erase us. Our fight for equality does not dim because of the wish of one man and his administration to silence it. It will only make us louder.”
Graham, who has worked with GLAAD for about a decade, set the tone for the night: determined. Every speaker and every attendee were determined to make change in our television, our news, our government, and our country.
GLAAD invited partners Michelle LeClair and Tena Clark to each share their stories and experiences of being LGBTQ with the crowd.
LeClair, an Atlanta-based author, shared her story of coming out while a part of the Church of Scientology, while Clark, an Atlanta-based singer, shared hers of growing up and coming out in rural Mississippi.
“I once lived a lie in a so-called religion that said being gay was a horrible thing,” LeClair said. “I came out within an organization that sought to suppress who I was and who I loved.”
“I am a story of the south, as I’m sure a lot of you are,” said Clark. “There wasn’t much space for living outside the lines beyond rigid gender roles and an old-fashioned, intolerant notion of who you could love.”
The point of these stories? To exhibit the importance of representation and hearing LGBTQ stories that GLAAD holds at the core of its mission.
“To me, what’s important is that our stories are shared with the LGBTQ community,” LeClair continued. “I feel that we all have stories to share… I know hearing stories like ours makes all the difference and I hope we can inspire others.”
“GLAAD has played an absolute vital role in empowering all of us to share our truth,” Clark added.
Following the two storytellers was Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. Ellis shared with the crowd the work GLAAD had been doing over the past year to ensure LGBTQ equality, as well as the success they found in this year’s election.
“We just lived through one of the most pivotal elections in our lifetime and GLAAD stepped up in a really big way,” she said.
She went on to list the ways GLAAD fought for LGBTQ representation in this election, including releasing the first-ever “Electing Acceptance Candidate Survey” and partnering with Michelle Obama’s organization, When We All Vote, to host a telethon the night before voting day and calling more than 50,000 LGBTQ and ally voters.
“Don’t let the Trump administration fool you. There was a rainbow wave this year,” Ellis said. And she was right: eight LGBTQ candidates were elected to federal seats, 34 to local seats, and 81 to state office.
“With the momentum of these electoral victories, now is the time to speak louder, share our stories, and fight for the causes closest to our hearts.”
She also congratulated out elected officials in Georgia Ben Ku, Sam Park, and Park Cannon.
Ellis went on to recognize GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project, which documents every attack Donald Trump makes on the LGBTQ community. So far, there have been 81 such attacks.
Ellis closed out her speech with a message to the crowd: “The fight isn’t over, and we refuse to give up any more ground.”
Following Ellis was the finale of the evening: presenting the Rising Star Award to Amiyah Scott. Scott is the only transgender woman of color to star on a broadcast television series.
The award-winner got choked up before giving her speech, of which she opted to give from the heart rather than cards.
“Being trans, being a trans woman of color, being different, being part of the LGBTQ community, I’ve known and I think we’ve all known moments where we felt alone but we weren’t,” Scott said.
“We’re here and we’ve always been here and we always will be here,” she continued. “We exist.”
Scott closed out the evening with a simple message of resilience: “The fight won’t stop. We won’t stop, this is only the beginning. We’ve come so far but we have so much further to go.”