EXCLUSIVE: Emmy-nominated actress Samira Wiley took the stage Saturday to accept the Vito Russo Award during the GLAAD Media Awards ceremony in New York. The Handmaid’s Tale actress delivered a personal, soul-stirring acceptance speech that not only urged visibility of the community but empowered the LGBTQ youth.
Named after LGBTQ activist, GLAAD founding member, and film historian Vito Russo, the award is presented every year to an LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the community. Wiley is the first queer woman of color to receive the Vito Russo Award. However, she is not the first woman of color to be honored by GLAAD. Wanda Sykes and Laverne Cox received the Stephen F. Kolzak in Award in 2010 and 2014 respectively while Ava DuVernay and Gloria Carter were honored with special awards during Saturday night’s ceremony. Known for not one, but two queer characters on TV (the beloved Poussey on Orange is the New Black and Moira on The Handmaid’s Tale) Wiley is more than qualified to receive the award.
In an exclusive video (watch above) obtained by Deadline, Wiley’s Handmaid’s Tale co-star Alexis Bledel presented her with the award. Wiley’s passion and emotion was contagious as she accepted the award, sharing a story about how she came out to her parents 10 years ago before performing in a play at Julliard. She said that she heard the words, “I like girls” come out of her mouth to which her father said, “Cool.”
“He stretched out his arms and hugged me with all of the love and the safety that he had always given me,” Wiley said. She pointed out that things went as scheduled and her parents saw her perform in the play without missing a beat — which is not the case in many queer people’s coming out narratives.
“So often in the lives of young queer people, when they decide to make those terrifying and boldly courageous first fragile steps into living their lives as authentically as possible, the plans do change,” she said. “Because of my parents, I knew I was loved and because of that, my plans, dreams, and goals all remained intact.”
Wiley empowered LGBTQ youth struggling with coming out saying that they are not alone. “Let me say it plainly right now: you are loved,” she said. “You have a community that is here for you, that is dedicated to protecting you and accepts you for exactly who you are right [at] this moment.”
She adds that she is most proud when someone comes up to her on the street and says “I came out because of you.”
“Visibility is essential,” she said. “My wife Lauren and I consider our own visibility to be a great privilege. We are honored to give young people a loving, beautiful example of what their future might look like.”
She concludes her speech by challenging everyone one to be visible in the forthcoming month of June, which is Pride month: “Let us overwhelm the world with LGBTQ images of love and pride…not only will we be here to see you, to love you, to validate you but I promise you that your pride will give someone else the courage to be themselves too. Together, let’s welcome some people to our community.”