“My parents instilled in me the belief that it didn’t matter what someone else looked like, or whom they loved; we are all the same on the inside and we all deserve respect,” Milano began in her acceptance speech. For Milano, it all started in the 1980s during the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis when she kissed her friend Ryan White – who was HIV positive – on the cheek on The Phil Donahue Show. “I wanted to show everyone that HIV could not be transmitted through casual contact, and shift the narrative away from the stigma that patients like Ryan and LGBTQ people across the country were feeling during that time.”
In the ‘80’s, in the midst of conservative backlash against the LGBTQ community and hysteria surrounding the AIDS crisis, something as simple as a kiss on the cheek was so powerful. It was loving. The award – the first GLAAD award to be named after a woman – was created to recognize allies who use their voice and public platform to accelerate and affect acceptance for the LGBTQ community. Milano used her speech to remind everyone just how important activism is, even if they don’t realize it.
As a longtime advocate, Milano has been outspoken in raising awareness for ending HIV and AIDS, marriage equality, and the proposed ban on transgender Americans in the military. Not only does she speak up, but she uses her place in the public eye to amplify the voices of LGBTQ people. Milano’s speech echoed GLAAD’s “This Way Forward” campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to include Americans of all sexes, orientations, and identities. Milano denounced crimes against trans people, including trans women of color, called for gender equality through the #MeToo movement, and pushed for lasting progress in accepting and supporting the rights of the community. “I want anti-discrimination to be written into the U.S. Constitution — so that women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are protected for generations to come,” she said. Milano wants it all and doesn’t believe it’s too much to ask for.
The actress encouraged the audience to vote in the fast-approaching midterm elections, making an important point: voting is not just about politics. It’s how everyone must protect each other, regardless of who we voted for. “It’s how we protect people who don’t realize just how badly they need protection (I won’t name names, but some of them wear red MAGA hats),” she said. “We are here for them, too. To me, that’s what being an ally is all about: seeing people as individuals, and supporting their experiences.”
Watch Milano's full speech, below.