Despite the Trump administration’s threat to define transgender individuals out of existence, and the recent violence against those of the Jewish faith, Steven Canals and Janet Mock are not afraid of the violence against marginalized people in the United States.
“The truth is that our lives as queer people of color, LGBTQ people, as women, our lives are constantly being contested,” Canals told Variety. “The risk is just in existing. And I can’t navigate my life in fear.”
Canals is the creator of FX’s “Pose,” which made history with the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series. Mock, who is the first trans woman of color hired as a writer on a television series for “Pose,” said that as a trans, queer, or Jewish individual, existing and showing up are forms of activism.
Canals, Mock, and writer and producer Our Lady J were honored with the Trailblazer Award for their work on “Pose” during the Outfest Legacy Awards on Sunday night in Los Angeles. The event celebrated creators who highlight LGBTQ stories in film and television, and raised money for the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, an initiative dedicated to preserving LGBTQ films.
“You matter” was the message of the night during the event, with many presenters and honorees acknowledging the special importance of LGBTQ stories in the current political climate.
Laverne Cox, who broke barriers as the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in acting for “Orange Is the New Black,” presented the “Pose” team with the award. She said the show shines a light on New York City’s drag ball scene in the 1980s, during which many black and Latino LGBTQ individuals sought refuge with house mothers and fathers when their own families shunned them.
“‘Pose’ reminds us that these challenges are nothing new. And that LGBT+ folks have have always found a way out of no way,” Cox said. “While small-minded, fear-based people want to treat members of our community as less than, or worse, as not at all, this show is a testament to our existence and it’s a primetime education in the courage, perseverance, and love that is our community.”
Even as legislators are trying to pull back LGBTQ rights and erase trans people, Mock told Variety that “Pose” shows “we can’t be erased, our stories, our lives, our experiences are here and we’re always going to be here.” In her speech, she also said it was the activism of trans and gender non-conforming people of eras like the 1980s who made it possible for current LGBTQ individuals to exist.
Presenter Lena Waithe (“The Chi”) said director and writer Justin Simien “shines a giant motherf—king light” on issues like police brutality, anti-gay and anti-trans legislation, and voter suppression through complex characters in the film and TV iterations of “Dear White People.”
Simien was presented with the Rising Star Award, and said there is an urgent need for fresh perspectives and legacies in film and television.
“Violence against trans people of color has risen, many of whom have never had the freedoms to even be themselves, let alone establish or leave their own personal legacies,” he said. “In case it’s not self-evident, our culture desperately needs new stories, new legacies. Because honey, the old ones have failed us.”
He also spoke to the “little Justins and the little Lenas” out there, saying that “you and your life have value and you will never be erased.”
The last honor of the night went to Sony Pictures Classics and Michael Barker and Tom Bernard’s work at SPC for embracing LGBTQ storytelling in films, most recently with 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name.”
Rupert Everett, who wrote, directed, and starred in the SPC-distributed “The Happy Prince,” celebrated Barker and Bernard for embracing multidimensional queer stories without an agenda.
“Tom and Michael embrace holistic queer characters and stories that aren’t being queer, rather but about a person or people who just happen to be so,” Everett said. “Sony Picture Classics doesn’t invest in gay films, or s films, or domestic films, or foreign films. They invest in quality films.”
Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”) noted that the company has made an “evergreen forest” of films that will keep giving over time. In his speech, Barker highlighted the real-life impact of storytelling. He gave an anecdote about a playwright Matthew Lopez, who fell in love with the SPC-backed “Howards End” when he was 15 in 1992, and more than 25 years later in 2018, adapted the film into “the most profound play about gay rights.”
“As society continues to push truth into dark corners, we have to hold onto each other, and in that same moment face our past, face our present, face our future, and be grateful for these films, our connection, and especially tonight to Outfest for bringing us together,” Barker said.