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The focus of Saturday’s 27th annual GLAAD Media Awards was on celebrating the great strides made in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning) community’s representation in media over the past year, but the message was clear: We still have a long way to go. Hollywood is ready for the fight, but they can’t do it alone.
“The work GLAAD has done has been so instrumental, because for many years, the LGBT community had nobody representing them at all,” Oscar-winning actress Patricia Arquette told Yahoo Celebrity on the GLAAD Media Awards blue carpet. “You couldn’t find a gay character on television, you certainly would never see a trans woman, so it’s very important. But there’s still a long way to go for parity.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
But Arquette is hopeful for the future, with GLAAD leading the charge. “[GLAAD President and CEO] Sarah Kate Ellis really brought Hollywood together over Georgia’s anti-gay bill, went to the governor and said, ‘The entertainment industry is not going to work in a discriminatory state.’ That’s really important, but then there are other states that are rolling back equal rights. People who work this hard and do this much incredible work, we really have to stand up for them.”
That’s not to say it’s all bad — however, it’s not all good. While Arquette notes that great strides have been made over the past year, like the legalization of gay marriage and trans awareness at an all-time high, there are still areas where we’re falling behind, and it tends to present itself in statewide legislations against the LGBTQ community.
“It’s important for people to be diligent about it, and it’s really important to know the issues and vote. Not just for your President, but for your congress and house members,” she said. “The Supreme Court hangs in the balance. So if equal rights, diversity, and full inclusion matters to you, use your power to vote.”
Another way Hollywood can help make a difference? By offering more roles that show the LGBTQ community without such a strong focus on their sexuality. Daniel Franzese — star of Mean Girls, Looking, and Recovery Road — thinks that media is a wonderful tool for educating those who might not otherwise have access to the experiences that LGBTQ people have.
Daniel Franzese (Photo: Getty Images)
“Someone in the Midwest may not have a gay friend or understand what it’s like to be gay, but they’ll have a storyline on someone’s television show where they fall in love and can go on someone’s journey,” says Franzese. “When someone is casting for a hotel manager, they’re not thinking of a trans person or they’re not thinking of a gay person or, so I think it’s interesting for people to think outside the box. We live in a colorful world, let’s make our media colorful. It’s the best way to get social change.”
Which is something Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show, Master of None, does so well. As Ansari’s best friend Denise, Lena Waithe plays her character so matter-of-factly that her sexuality is a footnote in comparison to all her other personality traits, which was kind of the point. Waithe says it was important for them to share a story that was inclusive, but it was also important for her to have accurate representation on screen.
Lena Waithe (Photo: Getty Images)
“It means a lot to me being a queer, out, black women in this world, being an authentic self, it’s really not an easy road to walk,” Waithe shares. “To be able to do a show like [Master of None] is a blessing. I know how important it is for people to see themselves, and I didn’t really see myself at times. The cool thing is this generation that’s coming up behind us are getting a chance to see that being trans, being gay, being gender queer is not weird. It doesn’t make them bad people. That’s so exciting and so amazing, and will really make a difference, I think.”
Aziz Ansari and Waithe in Master of None (Photo: Netflix)
Trans actress and activist Candis Cayne has been experiencing that difference firsthand while appearing on Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show, I Am Cait. Though she, Jenner, and the rest of the cast often have disagreements on how the trans community should be addressed and portrayed, she still feels it’s an opportunity to educate the public at large. Says Cayne, “I’m not just saying this because I’m on it, but I Am Cait is a really great show on television right now, because it’s doing a lot of things. We’re doing great work and highlighting organizations that need to be highlighted. It shows trans women talking, sometimes heatedly about politics, but we can all come together at the end of the day. You know, a group of trans women can come together, but the country can’t? What is wrong here?”
Candis Cayne (Photo: Getty Images)
What’s wrong is the anti-LGBTQ bills, and GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis is focused on fixing that for once and for all.
“We’re seeing so many bills — I mean, they’re practically coming out on a daily basis,” Ellis notes. “They’re very dangerous, and they’re our biggest fight. The ones that we lose mean that people will die, suicide rates will increase, and bullying rates will increase. They have real impact. So I’d really like to galvanize Hollywood around these LGBT bills. Getting Hollywood to continue that pressure is really important.”
Here’s hoping we celebrate even greater strides in LGBTQ awareness and acceptance this time next year.
Watch the GLAAD Media Awards on LOGO tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT.