"Donald, if you're watching, to you I say, Meryl was too easy on you."
Cameron Esposito, host of the 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards — which were held Saturday but will air Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern on Logo TV — captured the event's theme of resistance and persistence with this remark.
Esposito was standing on the very same stage at the Beverly Hilton where Meryl Streep eviscerated Donald Trump during her Golden Globes speech earlier this year. At that point, Trump had yet to be inaugurated. Now, after several months of his presidency, the GLAAD Awards became a platform for LGBT public figures and allies to clarify the rights and lives at stake — and also to find some comic relief after dark times.
To the pleasure of the crowd, Esposito delivered many cutting remarks.
"Donald Trump lost the popular vote this year," Esposito quipped in a mock list of the year's highlights. "He was inaugurated in front of a crowd as tiny as his petulant baby hands."
Of course, many of the topics addressed were no laughing matter. It was a staggering year of losses for the LGBT community, not least among them the Pulse massacre, and there were many moments of mourning at the ceremony. A hush fell over the ballroom when The Color Purple's Cynthia Erivo, tears streaming down her face, sang an emotional rendition of "Imagine," the portraits of the victims filling the screen behind her.
Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO and president of GLAAD, enumerated the political losses the LGBT community has endured since Trump took office, including erasure from federal websites and the upcoming U.S. census. "If we are not counted, we do not count," stressed Ellis, who promised that her organization would resist these acts. "We will not be second-class citizens! We will not be erased!"
Likewise, the evening's honorees knew that speeches were no time to thank agents and managers. Patricia Arquette gave a tearful acceptance of the Vanguard Award — a heartbreaking honor, since it is linked to the passing of her transgender sister, Alexis, from AIDS-related complications. Arquette, a staunch feminist and activist, said her own bravery paled in comparison to her late sibling.
"My sister Alexis challenged the movie industry at its core," said Arquette, who recently announced the launch of the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation, which will support the trans community, alongside cohost Ketel One.
"She risked it all because she knew she couldn't live a life that was a lie," Arquette added, in remarks that brought the audience to its feet with thunderous applause. "So whatever mark I have made in this life in activism will always pale in the light of Alexis' bravery and the light of every trans kid growing up in America."
During her speech, Arquette made a plea for intersectionality, in support of GLAAD's Together, #WeResist campaign, visualized as an ampersand.
"There's so many marginalized groups right now under attack," she said. "When one of us is vulnerable, all of us is vulnerable. I feel like it is my mission, our mission, to provide strength and support for all of our communities."
Arquette made a specific request of businesses regarding the transgender community.
"Trans women of color are the most likely group to live in 'deep poverty' of any group," she said. "So I would like to ask businesses to make concerted efforts to train and hire our trans brothers and sisters so that they can have the same dignity and rights to work as any other citizen."
"Everyone deserves to be paid fairly," she stressed, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion.
Troye Sivan, who at 21 is the youngest recipient of the Stephen F. Kolzak Award, wisely dedicated his honor to late LGBT pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, James Baldwin, and Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Pride flag who recently passed. He also used the platform to highlight the plight of transgender women — at least 27 were murdered in 2016 in the United States, and there have been eight reported deaths thus far in 2017. In response, the Australian musician and YouTube star urged the audience to action.
"In a time where it might be tempting to retreat into the shadows, I ask you to be louder – keep holding hands, keep finding pride in your identity, keep standing up for those in our community who are most vulnerable, keep love in your heart, and share it with the world," he said.
But the evening also celebrated many triumphs. Sivan thanked his mother Laurelle Mellet, who successfully petitioned to end the "gay panic" defense in Australia's murder trials. An Orlando survivor, Angel Colon — who learned to walk again last year after sustaining leg injuries — walked the red carpet, an inspirational symbol of strength and resilience. In addition, the recent "gay moments" in Disney's Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers were also a reason to rejoice for those who have dedicated their lives to the fight for LGBT visibility.
And there was no mistake regarding Moonlight. (Presenter Mary J. Blige, who was momentarily stunned when the room erupted into sustained applause for her, double-checked the envelope's contents during the category's filmed introduction.) At the GLAAD Awards, the coming-of-age story about a black gay youth won Outstanding Film — although, due to a lack of LGBT representation in Hollywood films, its only competition in the wide-release category was Star Trek Beyond.
Out writer Tarell Alvin McCraney accepted the award for Moonlight. In his speech, he celebrated the win, but stressed that the fight for visibility — and the fight for equality — is far from over.
"We won for Moonlight today, yes. Now, how are we going to win tomorrow?"
Actress Alexandra Billings, speaking for Transparent's team after the Amazon show won Outstanding Comedy Series, challenged the audience members in attendance to bring their message outside of the ballroom. Here, she said, in this privileged space among queer people and allies, it's easy to speak out. The world is the real challenge.
"What's gonna take courage, is to talk to people who don't agree with us," she said.
See the full list of winners below.
Vanguard Award: Patricia Arquette
Stephen F. Kolzak Award: Troye Sivan
Outstanding Film – Wide Release: Moonlight (A24)
Outstanding Drama Series: Shadowhunters (Freeform)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Transparent (Amazon)
Outstanding Film – Limited Release: Other People
Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series: Eyewitness (USA Network)
Outstanding Individual Episode: "San Junipero" Black Mirror (Netflix)
Outstanding Daily Drama: The Bold and The Beautiful (CBS)
Outstanding Comic Book: The Woods, written by James Tynion IV (BOOM! Studios)