Patricia Arquette Promotes Trans Visibility, Honors Late Sister at GLAAD Media Awards

'Moonlight' and Troye Sivan won big at the L.A. event, which delivered major moments courtesy of an acceptance speech by 'Transparent' star Alexandra Billings, a rendition of 'Imagine' from Cynthia Erivo and appearances by Mary J. Blige, Jussie Smollett, Paris Jackson and Caitlyn Jenner.
Emma McIntyre
Patricia Arquette

Already in possession of Emmy and Oscar trophies, Patricia Arquette on Saturday night added another honor to her long list of personal achievements: a Vanguard Award. The actress picked up the prize at the 28th annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, but her time in the spotlight felt less like a traditional acceptance speech and more like a transference of recognition to a true vanguard in her life, late trans sister Alexis Arquette. 

"She wanted to help move the world forward to a time in the future where every trans kid could live up to their full potential. Where it wouldn’t be uncommon in your everyday life to have a doctor, a nurse, a cop, a real estate agent or a public official who is a transgender person," explained Arquette, who received the award from Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor and Alexis' friend of 30 years, actor Luke Perry. "That they would get jobs, they would get hired, they would get a shot. She wanted to help move the world forward to a time when trans people were not fetishized, but to a better tomorrow when they could be seen as complete whole and equal human beings."

The entire ceremony seemed dedicated to honoring human beings as equal, both in the LGBTQ community as well as their allies. Hosted by Cameron Esposito, the evening saw top awards go to Arquette; gay pop star turned activist Troye Sivan as the youngest recipient of the Stephen F. Kolzak Award; Moonlight for Outstanding Film in Wide Release; Transparent for Outstanding TV Comedy; and Shadowhunters for Outstanding TV Drama. (A slew of categories were announced on giant screens in the ballroom but didn't include acceptance speeches. A full list of winners can be found here from the night, which was presented by partners including Delta, Hilton, Ketel One Vodka, Liberty Mutual and Wells Fargo.)

As the LGBTQ community continues to face discrimination — controversial bathroom bills in Texas and North Carolina received a fair amount of criticism from the stage — many of the night's winners shared messages of encouragement, pledging not to stay silent. 

"This year we have already seen eight trans women of color viciously murdered. Two weeks ago, members of Congress asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice to launch a federal hate crimes investigation into the murders. The response from Sessions? Silence. But we, the LGBTQ people and allies, don’t do silence," said Arquette, who then urged the capacity crowd to march, make phone calls and post on social media. 

Alexandra Billings went a step further. The actress, on stage with her Transparent family during their big win, captivated the entire audience as she drove home a powerful point. "It’s really easy for us to talk to each other, isn’t it? It’s really easy for us to say that we won't stay silent, isn’t it? It's easy for us to say to each other, dressed up, looking the way we do — clean, beautiful, pretty, shiny — that we’re going to change the world. That’s easy," said the longtime trans activist, who is one of many LGBTQ actors featured on the groundbreaking Amazon series that has brought trans stories to many an awards show stage. "What’s going to take courage is for us to talk to the people who don’t agree with us. If we’re going to make a change in this world, we’ve got to reach across the aisle."

Her words elicited rousing applause from the room, including from show creator Jill Soloway, who was among those standing onstage with Tambor, Jay Duplass, Zackary Drucker and Trace Lysette, among others. Billings then brought up President Donald Trump's name and, perhaps surprisingly, offered a bit of thanks for what he's done for this country by inciting such widespread activism. "The president has changed us in a way that I don't even think he has any idea," she said. "I remind us all that we live on a planet that spins on an axis of history and hope, and I tell you this from my heart of being a 55-year-old transgender woman of color living with AIDS for the last 30 years — the younger generation is listening to us. They see these images. So we have to guide them because without their voices and without their stories, we have no more humanity. So let’s go outside, take who we are and who we hope to be and give it to the people."

The younger generation got time at the mic courtesy of Sivan. The 21-year-old took home the Stephen F. Kolzak prize and in doing so, explained how his life has changed since watching the David France-directed documentary How to Survive a Plague about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. "Within the characters in the doc, I saw myself and my friends and my colleagues, and I saw my boyfriend," noted Sivan, who added that his work in the LGBTQ space is the work he's most passionate about. "The difference is that these people were attending their friends’ funerals on a weekly basis. This was in New York City not even 40 years ago. They were fighting for medical treatment, they were fighting for visibility and they were fighting for their lives. It was a life-or-death situation. Needless to say, the documentary shook me to my core. It was this kind of activism and sacrifice that paved the way for all of us to be here tonight."

Sivan then proceeded to dedicate his award to those who didn't make it and some who did, proving he's a student of the past. He even name-checked late activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Bayard Rustin and Gilbert Baker, but didn't forget the names he doesn't know. "It's for every volunteer at HIV clinics around the world, for every GLAAD volunteer," he said. "For all of you in this room and for every parent who truly loves and supports their kid whoever they are." 

Speaking of kids, Sivan closed his speech by giving a nice shout-out to his LGBTQ fans. "I’m lucky enough to play shows and see the young faces of our community. Let me tell you, our future is so, so bright. Keep love in your heart and don't forget to share it with the world, because that love is something we can be so proud of and something that no one can ever take from us," he said. 

Grammy and Tony winner Cynthia Erivo shared her talents with the room, showing up to perform a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" as a tribute to the 49 victims of the Orlando massacre. Following a passionate introduction by Empire star Jusie Smollett, Erivo, who has had a steady presence in Los Angeles in recent months with performances at the Grammys and the post-Oscars Governors Ball, turned in a powerhouse performance that had many in the audience in tears. Erivo herself exited the stage with tears streaming down her face. 

The final big moment of the night also proved to be an emotional one when Mary J. Blige presented the top film prize. Though she carried an envelope, opened it and announced the correct winner (unlike the Oscars), Blige left no one guessing when she professed her love for Barry Jenkins' Moonlight before even announcing the only other nominated film, Star Trek Beyond. 

Accepting on behalf of the A24 release were co-writer Tarell McCraney, actor Trevante Rhodes and producer Jeremy Kleiner. McCraney, who wrote the story on which the best picture Oscar winner is based, handled the speech and reminded the audience that he had won a GLAAD Award in 2010 for his play Wig Out. "I didn’t know if I would be here again," he explained. "My hope was that I would be here standing because I told, finally, my story. That would’ve meant that I would had to get brave. That would mean that I would’ve had to have found the right allies, the right family, and it would have to come welling out of us, all together, and you would see broken, scared, black, sometimes gay, oftentimes queer, always Tarell standing in front of you."

He then offered a glimpse into the future, a day when he might be standing on the GLAAD stage another time but not without strong women in front of him leading the way. 

"If I ever win a GLAAD Award again, I would hope to say that I wish like hell that we had started to treat women better," said McCraney. "Women, particularly women of color, stand for us in a way that we don’t know how to stand for ourselves. If I ever win a GLAAD Award again, it's because I finally got enough sense to stand behind those women, assigned and trans, black and brown, and follow them into victory. ... We won for Moonlight today, how are we going to win tomorrow?"

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