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Meryl Streep: “You have to speak up and stand up and act up”

Addressing a cheering audience at a fundraising gala for the Human Rights Campaign, Meryl Streep reinforced her criticism of Donald Trump, and spoke of having become a target since she first took him on in her Golden Globes speech in January.

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If you think people were mad when they thought the government was coming after their guns, wait until you see when they try to take away our happiness.

Read Streep’s speech in full below.

First of all, I do like football. Let me just make that clear. I gave seven years, seven of my youngest, prettiest years to being a cheerleader for football, basketball and wrestling. I have watched more Pee Wee league football, Pop Warner football, JV and varsity high school football, JV and varsity college level and professional football for over over 60 years, more than probably anyone in this room, and, yes, I thought the Falcons/Patriots game was the most exciting football game in history, but in my honest opinion, it is totally crazy that the winning advantage in a Super Bowl tie is determined by means of a coin toss! Sad. But that is as butch as I am going to get all night.

If you overhear a woman in a restaurant say, “My son is very interested in the arts,” she probably doesn’t mean football or mixed martial arts.

They are just not the same thing. Look, some of us like football, some of us like the arts, many of us require both in our lives. I was making a joke. Some people missed it. Mike Nichols once told me, “If you have to explain a joke, you, and the joke, are doomed. So, whatever.”

Thank you, Ken, for that generous tribute. I can’t imagine what I could have possibly done to deserve this honor. In The Hours, all I did was kiss Allison Janney, take, after take, after take, after take … that wasn’t hard. … I am fairly proud of my jolly portrayal of a gay-conversion therapist on Lisa Kudrow’s show Web Therapy — I feel our vice president might want to check out those episodes, as my character’s views seem to be in line with his own, although it too involves comedy, so it might not penetrate.

And I want to thank [HRC president] Chad [Griffin] and everyone at the Human Rights Campaign for this moving and meaningful honor, which I completely dedicate to my gay and trans teachers, colleagues, agents, mentors and friends, who should take the credit (or the blame) for my being here tonight because they taught me from a very young age, and continue to remind me every day, the very best lesson: to be myself and to take joy in my work and in my life.

I am grateful to this incredible organization for what you’ve done, in such a smart, systematic and strategic way, to secure and safeguard the fundamental rights of LGBTQ Americans. Much of the credit for the advances in acceptance, advocacy and law comes in a straight line from your efforts, (although I’m not sure how straight it was) and you have made the lives of people I love better, stronger and safer. Thank you for that.

When I was a young girl growing up in middle-class New Jersey, my entire artistic life was curated by people who lived in the straightjacket of conformist suburban life. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, in my neighborhood, all the houses were the same size, in the developments they were the same style, and in school the goal was to put pennies in your loafers, to look alike and act alike. Standing out, being different was like drawing a target on your forehead. You had to have a special kind of courage to do it. Some of my teachers were obliged to live their whole lives hidden, covertly. But my sixth- and seventh-grade music teacher, Paul Grossman, was one of the bravest people I knew. Later, when I was in graduate school, I read that he had transitioned and become one of the first transgender women in the country. After the operation, she reported back, as Paula Grossman, to our middle school in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where she had taught for over 30 years, and she was promptly fired. But she pursued her case for wrongful dismissal and back pay through the courts for seven years, all the way to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, her case was not accepted, and she lost, but she won her pension under a ‘disability’ settlement (although she was disabled only by the disapproval of her school board). She was a garrulous, cantankerous, terrific teacher, and she never taught again; but her case set the stage for many discrimination cases that followed. She and her wife raised their three kids. She worked as a town planner and had an act playing piano and singing in cocktail lounges around New Jersey. But I remember her as Mr. Grossman, and I remember when he took us on a field trip to the Statue of Liberty in 1961. Our whole class stood at the feet of that beautiful woman and sang a song he had taught us, with lyrics taken from the poem engraved at the base of the monument.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but I remember the song Mr. Grossman chose to teach us; it stirred my 11-year-old heart then, and it animates my conscience today. She died in 2003, God rest her soul.

My piano teacher, George Vauss, 80 years old in 1965, lived in a little house in the woods in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, with his partner, Phil (his lover, my mother told me, of 50 years). His house was a magical place, filled with music, birds and exotica: collectibles from their trips through Central and South America. I am not going to introduce you to all my gay teachers, just some of the most influential personalities in my past, the memorable people who made me an artist and who lived, unnecessarily, under duress.

The good thing about being older is that you do get to mark the progress of decades. You can honestly say: Things are better now. But what is the famous quote? “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance?” Everybody thinks that was Jefferson, but it was an Irishman, John Philpot Curran, don’t ‘cha know, who also said, “Evil prospers when good men do nothing.”

Look, here’s the deal. Human life has been organized in a certain way, the hierarchies set, who’s in charge, who makes the laws and who enforces them, pretty much the same way for, oh, about 40,000 years. Yes, I know, there were a small number of matrilineal cultures, some outliers who were more tolerant of difference, some so-called democracies 2,000 years ago (who excluded women and slaves, of course); but pretty much, throughout history, might made right. The biggest and richest and baddest was the best, and “The Man” was pretty much always a man.

But suddenly, at one point in the 20th century, for reasons I can’t possibly enumerate in my two remaining minutes, the clouds parted. Something changed. For the first time in 39,999 years, women began to be regarded as, if not equal, at least deserving of equal rights. Men and women of color demanded their equal rights. People of sexual orientation and gender identification outside the status quo also demanded equal regard under the law. So did people with disabilities. We all won rights that had already been granted us, in theory, in our Constitution two centuries before; but the courts and society finally caught up and recognized our claims. Amazingly, and, in terms of human history, blazingly fast, culture seemed to have shifted; the old hierarchies and entitlements seemed to have been upended.

Which brings us to now. We should not be surprised that fundamentalists, of every stripe, are exercised and fuming. We should not be surprised that these profound changes come at a steeper cost than we originally thought. We should not be surprised that not everyone is actually cool with it.

If we live through this precarious moment, if his catastrophic instinct to retaliate doesn’t lead us to nuclear winter, we will have much to thank our current leader for. He will have woken us up to how fragile freedom is. His whisperers will have alerted us to potential flaws in the balance of power in government. To how we have relied on the goodwill and selflessness of most previous occupants of the Oval Office. How quaint notions of custom, honor and duty compelled them to adhere to certain practices of transparency and responsibility. To how it all can be ignored. How the authority of the executive, in the hands of a self-dealer, can be wielded against the people, their Constitution and Bill of Rights. The whip of the executive, through a Twitter feed, can lash and intimidate, punish and humiliate, delegitimize the press and imagined enemies with spasmodic regularity and easily provoked predictability.

Here we are in 2017, the year the browser seems to have gone down. In danger of losing much of our information, we seem to be reverting to factory settings. But we are not going to go back to the bad old days of ignorance and harassment, oppression and hiding who we are. Because we owe it to the people who have died for our rights (and who died before they got their own). We owe it to the pioneers of the LGBTQ movement, like Paula Grossman, and to the people on the frontlines of all civil-rights movements, not to let them down. Yes, I am the most overrated, overdecorated and, currently, over-berated actress, who likes football, of my generation. But that is why you invited me here! Right?

The weight of all these honors is part of what brings me to this podium. It compels me, against my normal instinct (which is to stay home), it compels me to stand up in front of people and say words that haven’t been written for me, but that come from my life and my conviction and that I have to stand by. It’s hard to stand up. I don’t want to do it. I want to read and garden and load the dishwasher. It’s embarrassing and terrifying to put the target on your forehead. … And it sets you up for troll attacks and armies of brownshirt bots and worse, and the only way you can do it is if you feel you have to. You have to. You have no choice, but you have to speak up and stand up and act up.

via The Hollywood Reporter
photo: Seth Abramovitch, THR