Editor’s note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
(CNN) — When Ryan Murphy accepted the Carol Burnett Award at the Golden Globes this week, he didn’t thank his mother or God. He thanked award-winning gay actor Billy Porter, who presented Murphy with his award while wearing a transcendent tuxedo gown, and trans actress MJ Rodriguez, who broke barriers at last year’s (untelevised) Golden Globes as the first trans actress to win a Golden Globe.
Citing a litany of their accomplishments, Murphy went on to acknowledge—by name and hometown, as he had with Porter and Rodriguez—Niecy Nash-Betts, Matt Bomer and Jeremy Pope. He called them a beacon “of hope and progress.”
Murphy’s emotional speech on the evolution of queer representation in entertainment—beginning with his urging the room of celebrities to stand and deliver to Rodriguez the televised standing ovation she hadn’t gotten last year—was a powerful reminder that queer people are so often talked about when they’re not in the room, that for so long we’ve put in the work and not gotten the recognition.
It was also an incredibly inspiring moment, the queering of a major Hollywood event—a rainbow punctuation on a growing bevy of artistic work, from films such as “Tár” to shows such as “Sort Of,” showcasing the creative power of LGBTQ storytelling and expression.
It’s clear that culture is—perhaps by necessity—carrying the weight of progress right now. Murphy’s speech was a particular bright spot in an increasingly dark political moment for LGBTQ Americans.
A recent Pew Research poll shows that the majority of Americans, including the majority of Republicans and Black Americans regardless of party, believe that gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, complicating the LGBTQ advocacy community’s efforts to clap back against the battery of bills blocking trans people’s access to health care and athletics. It doesn’t help matters that there is a growing narrative around trans people “detransitioning,” a very small occurrence that is being exploited in the ongoing culture wars to legislate against trans and LGBTQ Americans.
For the trans adolescent who feels like their government doesn’t want them to access the potentially life-saving health care they need, or the queer teacher who is forced to hide the picture of their spouse at work or the kid with two moms who fears getting bullied, or for his family’s future, the political landscape has become a battlefield. Extremist right-wing leaders are weaponizing classrooms and doctor’s offices, sports fields and public gathering spaces.
Against this backdrop, these cultural moments—Rodriguez getting a standing ovation in real life, Cate Blanchett playing a powerful and flawed protagonist in fiction—create much-needed respite. They give LGBTQ people hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that we can be celebrated on screen and off, as complex, imperfect, beautiful human beings just like everyone else.
Murphy’s hopeful speech lifting up queer role models stands in refreshing contrast to all the vitriol. It amplifies recent and continued LGBTQ gains in pop culture and entertainment.
Netflix’s “Stranger Things” actor Noah Schnapp recently came out in a Tik Tok video. HBO’s “Sort Of” centers nonbinary, queer Pakistani Canadian actor Bilal Baig in the freshest and queerest show I’ve seen in a long time. (HBO shares a parent company with CNN.)
The rich, textured Oscar frontrunner Tár is a momentous step in the mainstream development of portraying queer characters. Take Blanchett in the stunning 2015 “Carol.” At the time a groundbreaking cinematic moment in centering queer representation, it was still steeped in the plot of tragic punishment for being LGBTQ. Blanchett’s character, a closeted, divorcing 1950s housewife in this film based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” pays the ultimate price for being her true self when she gets caught in an affair with a woman (played by Rooney Mara): the loss of custody of her daughter.
Seven years later in Tár, the same magnificent actor faces down epic tragedy with a major distinction, namely that her undoing is all her doing, agnostic of her LGBTQ status. Protagonist Lydia Tar is an abusive, brilliant composer and musician, who just happens to be a lesbian.
Blanchett’s development as an on-screen lesbian (we’ll forgive her for not being a lesbian in real life because she’s Cate Blanchett) and Murphy’s moment in the spotlight at the Golden Globes this week demonstrate that we’ve arrived, that we’re capable of creating mainstream, blockbuster hits that upstage queer representation without having to lean on tropes or typecasting.
Seeing ourselves represented is one big step in creating the next generation of self-assured, LGBTQ Americans and our families who just want to feel safe being ourselves and moving through our everyday lives. Whether these moments are enough to create a leap for LGBTQ equality more broadly remains to be seen, particularly against the backdrop of the right-wing American political landscape as it stands.
“It’s hard being an LGBTQ kid in America, in fact all over the world,” Murphy said. “You were often told you will never become anything. You have to hide your life to survive. But for those kids watching tonight, I offer up MJ and Billy and Niecy and Matt and Jeremy as examples of possibility. There is a way forward.”
Murphy’s career success, alongside the other queer Hollywood A-listers he honored with his words, are testament that we have made strides. No matter how much the divisive political hellscape threatens to pull us back from progress, pop culture shows us that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that we’ve come too far to turn back now.
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