Twenty-three years earlier, Anita Hill was getting the same honor at the same dinner.
Washington is playing Hill in HBO’s upcoming “Confirmation,” about the landmark confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
“I spent my summer being Anita Hill,” Washington said in her speech, before giving a favorite quote from Hill.
“We have got to understand that all disenfranchised people have something in common, and the pursuit of justice really is about equality for everyone,” Washington said.
Washington also talked about the role of arts and entertainment in paving the way for social change.
“Once public consciousness has been made open for a shift, the shift has to be consecrated,” she said. “It has to be legislated. It must be adjudicated. It must be made true, and that is what the ACLU does.”
The organization also honored Mary Bonauto, the attorney who argued the Obergefell vs. Hodges case before the Supreme Court, along with the named plaintiff, Jim Obergefell. The decision in the case legalized same-sex marriage across the country this year.
In an interview with Variety, Bonauto talked about the recent defeat of an anti-discrimination ordinance by voters in Houston, a setback in particular for transgender rights.
“We had a short campaign, 90 days, and we had to do a lot of education about who transgender people are. And in 90 days it is very hard to do that, especially when there is basically fear-mongering going on,” she said. “And I think we have to remember that there was a time when people thought gay people recruited kids, and were predators, and we had a lot of education to do before that changed.
“So I say ‘game on.’ We have to start doing the same thing instantly to make sure people understand who transgender people are, and this idea of predation in the bathroom is just ridiculous.”
Other honorees at the Bill of Rights Dinner included Tom Morello, the singer, songwriter and activist, whose award was presented by Michael Moore. Also in attendance were Washington’s “Scandal” co-stars Tony Goldwyn, Bellamy Young and Joe Morton; Zendaya and Catherine Hardwicke.