Lena Waithe Wants To Hear Everyone's Coming Out Stories

Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company

"I’m grateful for every single one," said the Emmy-winning writer at the "Groundbreakers: Writers Who Moved Hearts & Minds" Writers Guild Panel.

When Susannah Grant was writing HBO’s Confirmation, she didn’t set out to make a movie about the politics surrounding Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas.

“I didn’t approach Confirmation saying, ‘I really want to do something about those hearings,’” Grant said. “What I said was, ‘I think there’s a person there who we really haven’t seen.’ We saw the press footage of Anita Hill, but nobody saw what it took for her to make that decision as a 32-year-old law professor to say, ‘I have something to say about that nominee.’”

Grant was one of 10 screen and television writers at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on Thursday, where the panel "Groundbreakers: Writers Who Moved Hearts & Mind" was hosted by the Writers Guild of America West. With each panel moderated by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, talk about the country’s political divisiveness dominated the evening.

“It’s really sad,” said George Lopez. “I’ve been doing standup for 38 years and I’ve never seen the hate, the division, the sexism, the misogyny and the racism as it’s happening right now.”

Murphy Brown creator Diane English said she couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have her iconic series on the air now because of social media. She reminisced about the days when fans and critics took the time to write letters to express their opinions. “People can be so hateful now and not constructive,” she said.

Despite some gloomy observations, the panelists were also aware that their work not only entertains audiences, but they also have the talent — and the platforms — to inspire. Lena Waithe made history last month when she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing for an episode of Netflix’s Master of None in which her character comes out as gay, a storyline inspired by her own experience. 

“I have heard a lot of coming out stories” since the Emmys, Waithe said. “And I’m so grateful for every single one. I think they’re all valid and poignant and courageous and beautiful. I also hear from a lot of parents who have young children who they feel as if they might be parents of gay children and they confide in me as well… I never thought I would tell my coming out story ever," she revealed. "It’s never something I thought I would ever do. But I’m glad I did it, not because of the success or even the award, but more so because society was longing for that. I didn’t even know that but they needed to see a black queer woman who looks like me, who dresses like me, that walks through the world the way I do.”

Fans have also been thanking Scott Silveri for Speechless, his ABC comedy inspired by his own childhood and growing up with a brother with cerebral palsy. Silveri has made it his mission to cast actors with disabilities whenever possible. “We hear from a lot of folks who are happy to see themselves represented on TV,” he said.

Before Speechless, Silveri spent 22 years working on romantic comedies. “I don’t know a damn thing about romance,” he cracked. “I met my wife when I was 18! I wrote on Friends for eight years. I bullshat myself through the whole thing. I wrote so many first date and breakup scenes and for the first time I’m writing about a kid with a disability going into a mainstream school and people not knowing how to deal with them.”

The panelists also included Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), Tom Musca (Stand and Deliver), Ran Nyswaner (Philadelphia), David Pollock (M*A*S*H), Josh Singer (Spotlight) and Brian Yorkey (13 Reasons Why). The evening was presented in partnership with American Cinematheque and sponsored by Final Draft.