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With Donald Trump and Mike Pence poised to take over the White House, bringing with them a starting lineup of cabinet picks with illustrious histories of opposing LGBT rights, what might have been seen as almost superfluous just one year ago — an endorsement of a celebrity by a major gay rights group — takes on new levels of significance in 2017.
Perhaps that’s why the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, is tapping one of Hollywood’s biggest guns for special recognition at its annual East Coast banquet. The group is honoring Meryl Streep at its 2017 HRC Great New York Gala, to be held Feb. 11 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
The achievement is overdue. The 19-time Oscar-nominated actress — arguably as iconic a gay screen icon as Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland before her — has never before been given a major award for her contributions to LGBT culture and advancement. This despite a list of industry kudos so long, it warrants its own Wikipedia page.
Streep’s resume features some of the most essential films in the gay cinematic canon, from bleak historical dramas (Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood) to rousing musicals (Mamma Mia!, Into the Woods) to darkly campy delights (the immensely quotable Death Becomes Her and The Devil Wears Prada).
Her current “grand dame” era, featuring lovingly drawn depictions of larger-than-life figures like Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher and Florence Foster Jenkins, has only served to further secure the 67-year-old actress’ place in the queer pantheon, where brassy broads reign supreme.
Off-screen, Streep has taken up the advancement of gay rights as a personal cause. She has described her multiple roles in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the groundbreaking Tony Kushner play Angels in America (she played everything from accused spy Ethel Rosenberg to a male rabbi in the 2003 HBO miniseries) as among the most important work of her career for the way it humanized the AIDS crisis.
Accepting her Golden Globe for the project in 2004, she spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage, then a mounting hot-button issue that led President George W. Bush, in his reelection campaign, to call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban it from ever being legalized. Closing her speech, Streep said that “too many people [wanting] to commit their lives to each other till death do us part” is far from the country’s biggest problem, drawing applause from attendees like Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.
“Meryl Streep embodies the very nature of what it means to be an ally to our community,” says HRC President Chad Griffin, who will present Streep with the Ally for Equality Award, which recognizes “outstanding efforts of those who use their voice and publicly stand up for the LGBTQ community.”
Streep is also set to receive the Cecil B. deMille award at the 2017 Golden Globes.
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