Jim Parsons delivered a sweeping speech Thursday at the GLAAD Media Awards, which addressed topics like the progress of gay visibility as well as his own career as an actor and activist. But one of his most interesting points involved the evening's other honoree: Britney Spears.
In accepting the Stephen F. Kolzak Award, the Big Bang Theory actor revealed how Spears played a role in his life's trajectory. Parsons, 43, recounted that the 1998 music video of "...Baby One More Time" was often played while he was applying for a graduate degree in theater. It inspired him during the audition process.
"I remember watching [Britney Spears] dance-walk down that school hallway in that Catholic school uniform with those cute little pigtails. And I remember feeling this sense of Oh, yeah, that's it. You can do it. You go out there and do it like Britney, and you get it," Parsons recalled. "So thank you, Britney!"
Just minutes beforehand, Spears had taken the same stage at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. Parsons and the crowd were still reeling from her star power. "Britney has broken the show," Wanda Sykes gasped after Spears's departure. In his address, Parsons exclaimed, "Britney got here before I did? The queen should go last!"
Spears had accepted the Vanguard Award, which is "presented to media professionals who have made a significant difference in promoting equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people." From the onset, news of the honor had produced divided reactions within the LGBT community. Had Spears done enough as an ally to join the ranks of Vanguard Award honorees like Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, and Patricia Arquette?
However, Parsons's story illustrates how an entertainer -- purely through their art -- can uplift the lives of fans and help marginalized people. A pop song like "...Baby One More Time" may have silly lyrics, but it also elicits joy. These songs have become queer anthems, inspiring a generation to be "stronger than yesterday," to "work, bitch," and to say "gimme more" to a discriminatory society that might shortchange them.
Would it be nice if Spears doubled down on her activism in the manner of, say, Lady Gaga? Certainly. As a celebrity, she has enormous power to change hearts and minds for good, and she would be embraced as a grand marshal at any Pride parade.
But it is necessary to consider more than Spears's activist resume. (She has, by the way, supported the community through campaigns like Spirit Day and speaking out against transphobic legislation.) As Ricky Martin said in his introduction of Spears at the GLAAD Awards, "She fights for acceptance in her own way." Her songs have encouraged countless LGBT people to do better, to be better, and to be out and proud. Her music helped get Parsons into graduate school, setting him on a path to be one of the most visible gay actors of our time. It also inspired out skier Gus Kenworthy to go the extra mile at the Olympics, prompting social media encouragement from Spears as well.
Why is this important? At the ceremony, Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO of GLAAD, spoke to how acceptance of LGBT people is declining in the United States -- for the first time since the media organization began tracking this statistic. Right-wing enemies, she explained, are weaponizing religion and the engines of the federal government to roll back protections for queer people and stigmatize them.
The LGBT community may no longer have an ally as an American president. But we do have Britney Spears -- and an army of public figures who use their art to inspire others in the fight for equality. This force is invaluable. Spears herself spoke to the power of art and visibility in her short but sweet acceptance speech at the GLAAD Media Awards.
"To be accepted unconditionally and to be able to express yourself as an individual through art is such a blessing. Events like this show the world that we are not alone. We can all join hands together and know that we are all beautiful," Spears said.