FINALIST: ANDREA CONSTAND
Before Harvey Weinstein’s downfall spurred a national reckoning about sexual harassment and abuse and prompted the #MeToo movement, Andrea Constand came out publicly in 2015 as a lesbian to challenge Bill Cosby’s assertion that he knew how to read the desires of the women he assaulted. Constand filed suit against Cosby in 2005, alleging that he had drugged and raped her in 2004, which ended in a settlement for an undisclosed amount that was bound by a confidentiality agreement that Cosby’s attorneys accused her of breaking through two vague tweets in 2015 in which she simply wrote “Yes,” and “Sir!” And despite Cosby’s attempts to silence her through his attorneys, she fought back. A former employee of the basketball program at Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University, where they met and were friendly, Constand told her story for the first time in a courtroom this summer.
Of the more than 60 women who accused the once-beloved comic of drugging, raping, and abusing them, Constand had the only case for which the statute of limitations had not run out, which left her battling in a Pennsylvania courtroom not only for herself but on behalf of all of his accusers, although several of them testified at the trial. The trial against Cosby hinged on Constand’s standing strong against him in her testimony as lawyers attempted to use the fact that she had once been friends with him and that he had a habit of coming on to women, including her, against her, ended in June in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury. A retrial was scheduled for early November but was pushed to March or April of 2018 while Cosby reassembles his legal team. Meanwhile, Constand, despite having already bared her self in court is set to testify at the retrial to take down her abuser, an act of courage that could send a message to survivors to continue to speak out and to abusers that there will be consequences.
FINALIST: ANTHONY RAPP
The #MeToo movement is a watershed moment for Hollywood and the world, shedding a much-needed spotlight on sexual abuse toward women. But men can also be victims of sexual abuse, and they face their own stigma against coming forward.
Anthony Rapp is at the forefront of fighting this stigma. In an October interview with BuzzFeed, the out Star Trek: Discovery star revealed he had been “seduced” by Kevin Spacey when he was 14 and the Usual Suspects actor was 26. His story prompted Spacey to come out — a move that was slammed by GLAAD as well as prominent members of the LGBT community, who criticized it as a dangerous diversionary tactic that conflated gay identity with pedophilia.
But Rapp also inspired dozens of others, queer and straight, to speak out against Spacey, with allegations of abuse, rape, and misconduct that spanned decades. Many pointed to Rapp’s courage as the reason they felt empowered to come forward. As a result, the Oscar-winning actor was fired from Netflix’s House of Cards and was even erased from the film All the Money in the World after director Ridley Scott recast and reshot his role with Christopher Plummer.
The impact of Rapp’s bravery is far-reaching. If he had not spoken out against Spacey, there is no telling if these stories would ever have come to light — and a potential predator might still be on the prowl. The accusations against Spacey also reveal a troubling pattern, in which Spacey used the closet to his advantage. Some victims claimed they were hesitant to accuse Spacey, because it would mean “outing” the actor, which is considered a taboo act in the media. Others were closeted themselves or felt shame about being taken advantage of by another man. As more men come forward with claims of sexual assault, these conversations on how the closet and stigma can be used to silence victims are essential to fighting abuse within the entirety of the LGBT community.
In addition to taking down Spacey, Rapp has continued to empower victims. In November, he shared messages of hate he has received on social media since coming forward with his accusation. The move demonstrated that, for all the progress the culture has made with the #MeToo movement, there is still much work to be done in fostering a more supportive society — not to mention the fight against trolls and online harassment.
On top of all of this, Rapp also made history this year, by portraying the first gay character on the Star Trek television franchise, Lt. Paul Stamets. Both on and off screen, he has boldly gone where no man has gone before.