On Friday night, Barbra Streisand was honored, along with Anita Hill, by the American Civil Liberties Union. What follows is an edited version of the actress/singer/filmmaker’s acceptance speech, in which she reiterated her support of a proposed boycott of Colorado because of the state’s recent passage of an amendment banning legal protection for gay citizens.
EVEN IF I WEREN’T BEING HONORED tonight, I would be here to honor Anita Hill. For three startling days last year, this woman became everywoman–every woman who has ever been called arrogant for daring to stand her ground, every woman who has been maligned for asserting her innocence, every woman who has had her sexuality used as a weapon against her. We watched her and we saw ourselves sitting in that chair. And we felt violated.
Though quiet, she was strong and her performance unnerved the tribunal she faced. She was at that moment, whether she intended it or not, the finest example of women’s collective courage. We knew it and the men who went after her knew it.
Heat water, and at a certain moment it becomes steam. Well, that’s what happened with the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. The water boiled, the steam erupted, and the lid blew off the political pot.
In the aftermath, 155 women ran for high office; 48 got elected to the House and six to the Senate … For that and the fact that things will never be the same, we thank Anita Hill.
Well, I hope that wasn’t too controversial. The last time I spoke, a few weeks ago, at the (AIDS Project Los Angeles) benefit, I made some serious comments that seemed obvious to me but which some in the media had difficulty grasping.
I SPOKE OF MY CONCERN FOR A REFERENDUM that was passed in Colorado that deprives gays and lesbians of legal protection against discrimination. It sets a very dangerous precedent and I felt the need to speak out against it.
Think of it this way: If that law were passed against Jews or people of color , the whole country would be outraged and nobody would question a boycott of that state.
What I said in that speech was: “If we are asked to, we must refuse to play where they discriminate.” I did not ever back off, back down or back away from my original statement, as some of the press reported. Let me clearly state my position tonight: It appears that a boycott is under way in Colorado, and I will personally honor it and find some other state to vacation in.
In the meantime, the underpaid and overworked lawyers and other staff of the ACLU are already at work challenging the constitutionality of the Colorado initiative. It’s always the ACLU that is there for us, but why aren’t we always there for them?
Why is this organization so controversial–remember George Bush attacking Michael Dukakis for being a card-carrying member? What a despicable attack on an organization that should be thought of as American as apple pie–an organization that has one purpose, which is to defend the Constitution. But the attacks work, like making liberalism or feminism dirty words–and people get scared off.
I am here because the protection of free expression is basic to what I do as a performer and as a filmmaker.
Don’t we as artists have a fundamental responsibility to ensure the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression, which is the lifeblood of our art, our profession and our industry?
WE ARTISTS ARE NOT STRANGERS TO THE ATTACKS of the would-be censors attempting to ban some photo exhibit, movie, book or piece of music they find offensive. And every time those attacks occur, there is one organization, and only one, that unequivocally stands up to them and that is the ACLU.
The entertainment industry requires the maintenance of a free marketplace of ideas for its very existence. Yet too often when we talk about the marketplace of ideas, we think mostly of the market and too little of the ideas. And that includes lousy ideas, offensive ideas, unpopular ideas–if they weren’t unpopular and controversial they wouldn’t need the protection of the Bill of Rights and of this organization.
So I thank the ACLU of Southern California and its dedicated staff for being the moral nudges that they are. I’m very honored to accept this award, and if they ever get around to sending me a card … I will proudly carry it.