LGBTQ representation at the Academy Awards has been improving steadily for some time now, but even at this point, there aren’t too many acceptance speeches that have meant a lot to the community.
When those moments do arrive, they’re incredibly special, and they deserve to be highlighted, memorialized, and rewatched over and over.
Ahead of the 2023 Academy Awards, here are five speeches that greatly impacted the LGBTQ community.
Dustin Lance Black’s Milk Speech
In 2009, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for penning the film Milk, which chronicles the life of Harvey Milk, remembered as one of the most important pioneers in the gay rights movement.
His momentous win occurred during a tumultuous time, shortly after the controversial California Prop. 8 was passed and at the apex of the ongoing battle for marriage equality.
During his emotional acceptance speech, Black shed tears as he delivered a heartfelt message to LGBTQ youth, urging them to persevere and continue the fight for their rights. In an inspiring declaration, he reassured them that despite the obstacles they may face, they are loved.
He also recalled his own experience, stating that when he moved to Califnoria and learned about the work of Milk, “It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married.”
Howard Ashman’s Posthumous Win
The incredible songwriting duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken earned their second Best Original Song Academy Award for the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, with the title track coming out on top.
Sadly, Ashman, who wrote the lyrics, passed away just before the movie’s release. In a moving moment, his partner Bill Lauch stepped up to accept the award on Ashman’s behalf, becoming the first gay partner to do so for a deceased loved one.
Unabashedly proud of their relationship, Lauch spoke emotionally to the millions watching, saying, “Howard and I shared a home and a life together, and I’m very happy and very proud to accept this for him.”
Despite the joyous occasion, there was a tinge of sadness as Lauch acknowledged, “But it is bittersweet. This is the first Academy Award given to someone we’ve lost to AIDS.”
It was a landmark moment in the AIDS crisis, and his short speech surely opened people’s eyes to the issue.
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain Speech
“First of all, I want to thank two people who don’t even exist, or I should say, they do exist because of the imagination of Annie Proulx and the artistry of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Their names are ‘Ennis’ and ‘Jack’,” Ang Lee began his speech as he accepted the Oscar for Best Director for Brokeback Mountain.
He continued, profoundly, by saying, “They taught all of us who made Brokeback Mountain so much about, not just all the gay men and women whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness of love itself.”
The film, which was incredibly meaningful to the LGBTQ community, was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, while none of the three nominated actors took home any gold.
Tom Hanks’ Philadelphia Speech
When Tom Hanks got on stage to accept his Best Actor trophy for playing a gay man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia–his first of two consecutive wins (he earned another the following year for Forrest Gump), he thanked his wife, co-stars, and a slew of filmmakers before veering into territory that ensured everyone tuning in shed a tear.
“I would not be standing here if it weren’t for two very important men in my life, so… two that I haven’t spoken with in awhile, but I had the pleasure of just the other evening,” Hanks said, before naming his friends.
“Mr. Rawley Farnsworth, who was my high school drama teacher, who taught me to act well the part, there all the glory lies. And one of my classmates under Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. John Gilkerson.”
People in the audience seemed to enjoy the personalized speech, and Hanks quickly turned it to a serious place.
“I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age.” The star drove the point home by adding, “I wish my babies could have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends.”
Sean Penn’s Milk Speech
In a historic moment at the 81st Academy Awards, Sean Penn was gifted the Best Actor trophy for his outstanding portrayal of the legendary gay rights activist Harvey Milk in the critically acclaimed biopic Milk.
During his powerful acceptance speech, Penn spoke with eloquence and conviction, addressing the recent ban against same-sex marriage and urging its supporters to reconsider their stance.
In a poignant and unashamedly political message, he declared, “I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”
Penn’s bold stance and unwavering support for the LGBTQ+ community resonated with audiences worldwide and cemented his status as a champion of social justice.
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