In light of the Emmy Awards Sophie Carberry looks at the importance of LGBT+ wins.
To many, the annual Primetime Emmy Awards are an unremarkable event. Most awards shows are, for the most part, irrelevant to the lives of those outside of show-business. They are usually nothing more than the same string of personalities, winning the same awards for roles that are marginally different from those they played the previous year. This year, however, challenged my lack of interest in such frivolities. Why? It’s simple: I finally saw myself in the winners.
LGBTQ+ representation on television seems like a minute detail in the campaign for equality. However, when you grow up in an area where being gay in real life is not an option, fictional depictions of LGBTQ+ identities become something of great solace. As I became comfortable with my identity as a result of such representation, I began to hope that others would see the positive impact the people behind these fictions had on many people in our community. I also hoped that these people would be recognised and awarded for what they were achieving. If people wanted so badly for Leonardo di Caprio to win an Oscar for his hard work, why not the people that got many young LGBTQ+ folks through secondary school? In a world where adequate queer representation is already sorely lacking, it was hard to believe we would ever be granted the same recognition.
It highlighted something of great weight, but which had been consistently taken apart by the ‘it’s just television’ argument.
It is no surprise therefore, that reading the aptly titled headline ‘Queerest Emmys Ever’ the morning after the ceremony I found myself, like many others, feeling somewhat victorious. With all eyes centre-stage, those who had won had taken a pivotal opportunity to voice crucial messages. These messages had been vocalised in the past, but had been drowned out in a sea of studio gagging-orders and excuses. This time voices could be heard. Most notably, Jeffrey Tambor, who collected the award for Lead Actor in a Comedy for his role in Transparent, seized the moment to call on studios to stop favouring cisgender actors over transgender actors when hiring for transgender roles. He acknowledged the many gruelling years of fighting to have LGBTQ+ stories told in film and television, and the struggles of transgender actors losing out on roles in a cisgender-dominated industry, noting “this is much bigger than me.”
Jill Soloway, an openly queer comedian and playwright, delivered her acceptance speech for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series, and it was nothing short of invigorating. In a mere minute, she flawlessly summed up the sheer power of fiction, stating that putting “women, people of colour, trans people, [and] queer people” at the centre of these stories, creates the potential to change not only the lives of individuals, but the world in its entirety. Having seen how the treatment of queer representation in the media has the ability to make or break someone’s hope, Soloway’s appeal sent out a message that many of us had been longing for. It highlighted something of great weight, but which had been consistently taken apart by the ‘it’s just television’ argument. It finally began to feel like someone was listening.
Sarah Paulson dedicated a large chunk of the evening to declaring her love for her girlfriend, Holland Taylor, polishing off her acceptance speech with a shout-out to their relationship. Cue the hearts of many queer women, including myself, fluttering in unison. This was a moment of triumph for those of us who had never considered seeing people like us on that stage a real possibility. Even as someone who is comfortable with my sexuality, I had not realised quite how relieving and validating it would be to watch someone be so casually and openly affectionate towards her girlfriend on national television.
I had not realised quite how relieving and validating it would be to watch someone be so casually and openly affectionate towards her girlfriend on national television.
Kate McKinnon, who accepted her award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Saturday Night Live, did not deliver quite a ground-breaking message amidst her flurry of syllables and tears, but the magnitude of her achievement was not baseless. McKinnon is the first female and first openly lesbian cast member in the show’s history to win in this category. While she made no mention of this, there was still a considerable amount of validation to be felt from seeing someone, with whom you share many experiences and hardships, accept something so highly esteemed. I recall reading articles wherein she discussed the difficulties she had encountered while being closeted in high school, how she had cried when she came out, and in those I saw myself. As she thanked her writers and co-stars, thousands of young queer women who also saw that part of themselves in her were thanking her in a different regard. Seeing her on stage, award in hand, provided me with an insight into my future. It reinforced the overall message of the night: We don’t have to hide who we are in order to be successful.