Homophobia within the black community gets a lot of attention. Have you witnessed it firsthand?
I have. In fact, something that brings me great joy is knowing what Scandal’s audience looks like in terms of African-American households and knowing that so many African-American people and families are being introduced to our characters James and Cyrus. It’s really exciting that millions of viewers each week are living life with this amazing, complex couple, stepping into their gay marriage and adoption experience, which is such a vital storyline in our show.
You’ve been in the business a long time. Have you known many closeted actors?
Sure. I’ve actually talked with friends about the similarities between being closeted and the idea of passing in the black community. Those in the black community who could pass for white often did so to get more opportunities in life, but it came at such a great cost. When you buy into the cultural idea of what’s acceptable and unacceptable, you reinforce negative stereotypes and prejudices. That wouldn’t work for me. I don’t love to give advice to anyone because we all have to make our own choices, but I’d want to live my life in truth. But there also have to be changes within the Hollywood community. Casting directors and producers have to look beyond sexual orientation in the way that they’re just barely, barely beginning to look beyond race. Until Hollywood learns that actors are artists of transformation, it will continue to be limiting for minorities.
You’ve tweeted your support for marriage equality and your disappointment in Russia’s antigay laws. Why is it important to let people know where you stand?
When there are crimes against humanity being committed in the world, we are all so vulnerable. We have to look out for and protect each other.
Have you gotten any backlash from conservative followers?
Oh, all the time! I like when people express a difference of opinion on Twitter, because that’s so wonderful about the country we live in. You don’t have to agree with me, but if you come at me with hatred and slurs, I will block you.
Along with soccer pro Robbie Rogers, you recently acted as honorary co-chair for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s Respect Awards, which are dedicated to ending bullying in schools.
It’s important to fight for equality on a policy level, but we also have to address these issues with young people. We don’t come out of the womb filled with prejudice, racism, and homophobia. Kids are taught to hate, so we have to protect our young people’s minds from those evils.
Were you ever a victim of bullying?
I was way too much of a flaky theater kid to pay attention. I definitely had periods of feeling like an outsider, but I’ve never experienced the terror that so many young people are experiencing today. I was lucky.
Although you recently married a man, some gossips have assumed you must be a lesbian because you’re so notoriously private about your love life. Do you mind? [Editor's Note: This interview was conducted before US Weekly's exclusive report that Washington is pregnant and expecting her first child.]
It’s interesting how much people long to fill in the gaps when someone in the public eye doesn’t share their personal life. I understand their frustration. I like how people will post pictures of me with other women that I adore, hugging on red carpets, and say, “See?” Are we so uncomfortable with love between two people of the same gender that we immediately label it as sexual? But I’ve never been bothered by the lesbian rumor. There’s nothing offensive about it, so there’s no reason to be offended.