Ariana DeBose Praises LGBTQ Oscar Nominee Stephanie Hsu at Human Rights Campaign Gala

ariana debose stephanie hsu
Nina Westervelt for Variety | Courtesy of Allyson Riggs/A24

“Never confuse movement with progress. Because you can run in place and not get anywhere.”

Ariana DeBose, who earned a best supporting actress win at the Academy Awards last year for her role in “West Side Story,” used this iconic Denzel Washington quote to describe the current state of LGBTQ+ equality in Hollywood.

On Saturday night, the openly queer actor accepted the Visibility Award at the annual Human Rights Campaign gala in New York. DeBose highlighted Stephanie Hsu’s Oscar nomination for her performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” as a win for the LGBTQ+ community, but acknowledged that diversity conversations are far from over. 

“The fact that I had such a monumental year last year is a sign of movement,” DeBose told Variety on the red carpet before accepting her award. “We’re seeing beautiful moments for Stephanie Hsu right now. That’s a queer character played by a queer, beautiful woman. These are wins and I will take them when we get them.”

She continued, “I also acknowledge there’s a lot of conversation we need to be having about diversity and inclusion, what equality really means and how we make equitable spaces in the entertainment industry. There’s more to be done.”

Contemporary portrait painter Kehinde Wiley was awarded the HRC National Equality Award. Wiley credited painter Kerry James Marshall, his mother and Michael Jackson for creating the space that allowed him to flourish as an artist.

“I did the final, and I think, the most important portrait that [Jackson] had ever done,” Wiley said. “He was a constant shapeshifter who didn’t really care about the boundaries of creative thought. But later, when we sat down and talked about how to create his portrait, he understood the boundaries of art history and how to surpass those boundaries.”

While HRC advocates and corporate sponsors ate their three-course meal on the fifth floor of the New York Marriot Marquis, speakers highlighted some of the notable wins on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer discussed his role in passing the Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. 

Schumer delayed the Senate vote until after the midterm election, a compromise that resulted in 12 Republican Senators voting in favor of advancing the bill. President Joe Biden later signed the act into law in December.

“I was getting tremendous pressure from some of the real political folks in my party saying, ‘put it on the floor. Even if it loses, we’ll show the division and we want to show who’s on who’s side,’” Schumer said. “But guess what? Getting it done was more important than any political gain.”

Movement on the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, remains stalled in the Senate. Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) contested that abolishing the filibuster would be the quickest way for Democrats to pass the Equality Act. 

“We’re still trying to get the Equality Act,” Nadler told Variety. “As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I got it passed through the committee and through the house. Unfortunately, the Senate wouldn’t do it. It’s a Democratic Senate, but they need 60 votes because of the filibuster. That’s one thing we got to get rid of.”

The Equality Act prohibits states from outlawing anti-LGBTQ discrimination in many sectors of life, from the workplace to schools and housing accommodations. Comedian and live auctioneer Dana Goldberg said she believes HRC and other LGBTQ organizations will help the Equality Act get passed.

“The Respect for Marriage Act was a huge thing, I know people don’t want to minimize that and we shouldn’t, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Goldberg said. “In 26 states, people can still get fired just because of who they love. They can get married on Saturday and get fired on Monday. We have to fix that and HRC is on the front lines making sure that happens.”