Ally and activist Jennifer Beals delivered a powerful speech about the importance of inclusion and respect while accepting the GLSEN Respect Awards Champion honor on Wednesday.
Following an introduction by colleagues and friends from The L Word, Ilene Chaiken, Leisha Hailey, and Kate Moennig, Beals, who was the biggest name to sign on to play a lesbian in the groundbreaking series that debuted in 2004, shared about her journey as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and for becoming involved with GLSEN and its work that supports queer youth.
In the introduction, Chaiken, Hailey, and Moennig touch on Beals’s passion, compassion, and intelligence before turning it over to her.
“The L Word is the gift that keeps on giving in my life,” Beals begins in a speech she delivers virtually.
“Years ago, when I first found out about GLSEN, I was so excited to know that there was an organization out there dedicated to creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade,” she says. “It made me think of being back in school where figuring out who you are is challenging under the best of circumstances.”
Beals then turns to her own story for a moment.
“I thought about when I was a little girl and it dawned on me that I was different from my predominantly white classmates, that I was other,” she says. “I had a loving school community. But I thought about all of those kids grappling with complex issues of identity and purpose and having to do all of that in an environment where they may not be welcome at all, where they may not have a supportive environment.”
“Other is a superpower, but it can also be a pulsing vulnerability in certain spaces, and sometimes it can be both at the same time,” Beals continues.
Veteran performer Beals’s career kicked into high gear when she was in her late teens with 1983’s Flashdance. She went on to star in indie films including Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Four Rooms, and Roger Dodger. She also famously starred opposite Denzel Washington in 1995's Devil in a Blue Dress. She played power lesbian Bette Porter on The L Word for six seasons until it ended in 2009. Along with Chaiken, Moennig, and Hailey as executive producers, she helped usher in the show's reboot, The L Word: Generation Q, in which she also stars.
Beyond starring in a TV series about queer women, Beals became an ardent activist, dedicating her time and fundraising for LGBTQ+ people, as Hailey notes in the intro.
“When I heard they help schools develop comprehensive policies, supportive educators, and GSAs, I wanted to find a way to help them in their mission,” Beals says.
“One of the main reasons we want to bring back The L Word in its new iteration, Generation Q, was in order to tell the stories of a new generation, because narrative matters,” she adds, noting that new, compelling stories began to emerge as the original series ended.
“We became aware of a new generation who refused to be defined by anyone, who demanded on defining themselves, and that was and is incredibly exciting to me," she says.
“We are all made better by hearing one another’s stories and by telling our own. Everyone’s story deserves to be told. And everyone deserves a quality education where they are respected and included,” she says.
Watch Beals’s full speech below.