22/10/2009 4th Rome International Film Festival - Screening of Julie & Julia, Day 1, Rome, Italy
22/10/2009 4th Rome International Film Festival - Screening of Julie & Julia, Day 1, Rome, Italy
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Simply Streep – The Meryl Streep Archives.jpg

11.02.2017 Ally For Equality Award - full speech

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Honoree Meryl Streep speaks onstage during the 2017 Human Rights Campaign Greater New York Gala at Waldorf Astoria Hotel on February 11, 2017 in New York City.

"Thank you. Stop. Sit down. Sit down. I'm coming every year. Thank you, Ken. Thank you. This man is writing the visual history of our times, and we are so lucky that someone with the capacity of mind and heart and the integrity is taking on that job. Thank you very much.

I do like football. I want to make this clear. I gave seven years, seven of my youngest, prettiest years to being a cheerleader for football, basketball and wrestling. I have watched more peewee football, Pop Warner football, JV and varsity high school football, JV and varsity college football, and professional football in 60 years than anybody here.

But if you hear a woman in a restaurant say, “My son is very interested in the arts,” shr's not talking about football or mixed martial arts, because they're just not the same thing. Some of us like football, some of us like the arts. Many of us want both in our lives. And it isn't helpful to make it us versus them. I was making a joke and Mike Nichols told me, "If you have to explain a joke, Meryl, you're doomed, so..."

So I honestly can’t imagine what I have done to deserve this great honor. Really...In The Hours all I did was kiss Allison Janney in take, after take, after take, after take...and it wasn’t that hard at all. And I'm also fairly proud of a very jolly portrayal of a gay conversion therapist on Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy that I did. And I feel our Vice President might want to check out those episodes because my character’s views seem to doveil with his, although it involves comedy, so I don't know if it's going to penetrate.

And I want to thank (HRC president) Chad (Griffin) and everybody at the Human Rights Campaign for this moving and very meaningful honor, which I dedicate to my gay and trans teachers, colleagues, mentors, directors, friends, all of whom should take the credit for me being up here because they taught me from a very young age, and they continue to remind me every day of the very best lesson and that is to be yourself and love and take joy in your work and what you do.

And I'm very grateful to this incredible organization, the Human Rights Campaign, for what you have done, in such a smart, strategic and systematic way, to secure and safeguard the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Most of the advances in acceptance and advocacy and law have come straight from the work of this organization. Well, I don't know how straight this is but you have made the lives of people I love better, stronger and safer.

When I was a little girl growing up in middle-class New Jersey, my entire artistic life was curated by people who lived in the straight jacket of a very conformist suburban life. In the late '50s and early '60s, all the houses in my neighborhood were the same size. In the developments, they even were the same shape and color and style. And in the schools, your job was was to put pennies in your loafers and look the same as everybody else and act the same way as everybody else. Standing out, being different was like drawing a target on your forehead. And you had to have a special kind of courage to do it. And 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. Because later, when I was in graduate school, I read that he had transitioned and become one of the first transgender women in the country. And after the operation, she reported back. As Paula Grossman. To our middle school in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where she had taught for 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. Unfortunately, her case was not accepted, and she lost, but she won her pension under a Disability Allowance settlement, although she was disabled only by the small minds of the 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 girls. She worked as a town planner and she 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. And our whole class stood at the feet of that huge, beautiful woman and sang a song he had taught us, that was taken from the lyrics, the lyrics were taken from the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved at the base of the monument.

singing "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

I can’t remember what I did Tuesday, but I remember...I remember that song Mr. Grossman chose to teach us. It stirred my 11-year-old heart then, and it animates my conscience today. That's what great teachers do. She died in 2003, god rest her soul.

My piano teacher, George Voss. He was about 80 years old in 1965. He lived...or he was probably 40 and I just thought he was that old. Whatever... He lived in a little house hidden away in the woods in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, with his lover, Phil. And my mother said, his lover for 50 years. And his house wasn't like the other houses. It was a magical place. It was filled with birds and exotica and collectibles from Central and South America which they'd gathered on their trips. I'm not going to introduce you to all my gay an trans teachers. I just wanted to tell you about some of the people who made me an artist and who lived under duress. That's all.

You know, there is a good thing about being older. There is. You'll see. And that is you do get to mark the decades and the progress of things. You can honestly say things are better now. They really are better now. But what is that famous quote? “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Everybody thinks that's Jefferson, that said that, but it wasn't. It was an Irishman, John Philpot Curran, don't ya know? "Etarnal vigilance is the price of liberty." And he also said - I just, I mean, Ken, great minds, you know -“Evil prospers when good men do nothing.” Ain't that the truth?

Okay, here's my theory. I'm going to go very fast, so have to stay with me, OK? Human life has been organized in a certain way. The hierarchy set, who’s in charge, who makes the laws and who enforces the laws, pretty much the same way for 40,000 years. Yeah, I know, I know. There were some small number of matrilineal cultures and some outliers who were more tolerant to differences, very true; but pretty much and so-called democracies, the great democracy of Greece, where women and slaves were excluded. Pretty much through our history, might made right and the biggest and the richest and the baddest were the best. And the man, pretty much always was a man.

But suddenly, at one point in the 20th century, for reasons I can’t possibly enumerate in the two minutes that I have left,something did change. The clouds parted and women began to be regarded, if not as equal, but as deserving of equal rights. It' true. It was a first. Men and women of color demanded their equal rights. People of sexual orientation and gender identification outside the status quo also demanded their equal regard under the law. So did people with disabilities. We all won rights that had already been granted us in the Constitution 200 years before in theory. But the courts and society finally caught up and recognized our claims. And amazingly, and, in the terms of the whole human history, blazingly fast, culture seemed to have shifted. All the old hierarchies and entitlements seemed to be on shaky ground which brings us to now. We shouldn't be surprised that fundamentalists of all stripes, everywhere are exercised and fuming. We shouldn't be surprised that these profound changes come at a steeper cost than it seemed we were gliding through them in the late 20th century. We shouldn't be surprised if not everyone is totally down with it. .

But if we live, 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 this president for because he will have woken us up to how fragile freedom really is. And his whisperers will have alerted us to the potential flaws in our balance of power in government. To how we've relied on the goodwill and selflessness of previous occupants of the Oval Office. And how quaint notions of custom, honor and duty compelled them to adhere to certain practices of transparency and responsibility. How easily all of this can be ignored. And how the authority of the executive, in the hands of a self dealer, can be wielded against the people and the Constitution and their bill of rights. The whip of the executive can, through a Twitter feed, lash and intimidate, punish and humiliate, de-legitimize the press and all the imagined enemies with spasmodic regularity and easily provoked predictability.

Here we are in 2017 and our browser seems to have gone down. And we are in danger of losing all our information. And we seem to be reverting to the factory settings. But we're not. We're not going to go back to the bad old days of ignorance and 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. And 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. I am the most overrated and most overdecorated and currently, currently, I am the most over berated actress, who likes football, of my generation. But that is why you invited me here! Right?

Okay. The weight, the weight of all my honors is part of what brings me here to the podium. It compels me. It's against every one of my natural instincts, which is to stay fuck 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, my conviction and that I have to stand by because it’s hard to stand up. It's hard. I don’t want to do it. I don't want to be here. I want to be home and I want to read and garden and load my dishwasher. I do. I love that. It’s embarrassing and terrifying to put the target on your forehead. And it sets you up for all sorts of attacks and armies of brownshirts and bots and worse. And the only way you can do it is to feel you have to. You have to. You don't have an option. You have to stand up, speak up, act up! Thank you. You are. You are it! You are it!

And when I load my dishwasher from where I live in New York City, I can look out my window and I see the Statue of Liberty. And she reminds me of Mr.Grossman and the first trip there and all my great grandparents who came through and paddes by that poem. Many of them fled religious, religious intolerance in the old world and we Americans have the right to reject the imposition of unwanted religious practice in our lives. We have the right to live our lives, with God or without her, as we choose. There's a prohibition in this country against the establishment of state religion in our Constitution, and we have the right to choose with whom we live, whom we love and who and what gets to interfere with our bodies. As Americans, men, women, people, gay, straight, LGBTQ, all of us have the human right to life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And if you think people were mad when they thought the government was coming after their guns, wait untill you see they try to take away our happiness!”

19.03.2017 10:00:18
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