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Meryl Streep drew cheers at yesterday’s annual gala for the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ rights, where Streep received the group’s National Ally For Equality Award. Among the other honorees and speakers were Senator minority leader Charles Schumer, who was more impassioned and freewheeling than we are used to seeing him on the Senate floor; Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney; and late-night host Seth Meyers. But it was Streep who carried the night. As Deadline wrote, Meryl spoke of the early and powerful influence of teachers when she was growing up in suburban New Jersey, and particularly of Paul Grossman, her music teacher when she was in sixth and seventh grades. He had taken the class on a field trip to the Statue of Liberty, she recalled. “Our whole class stood at the feet of that huge, beautiful woman and we sang a song that he had taught us with the lyrics taken from the poem by Emma Lazarus engraved at the face of the monument.” Streep paused as if considering her next move, and then began to sing. “Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore Send thee the homeless tempest toss’t to me. I life my lamp beside the golden door.” At one point she turned away from the audience, her eyes red with tears before continuing, and when finished, she half-whispered, “I can’t remember what I did Tuesday, but I remember that.” Streep said that Paul Grossman later became Paula Grossman and was promptly fired, never seeing a classroom again.
But her example and those of others, including many in the room, brought them all to today. “So here we are in 2017 and our browsers have gone down,” Streep said. “And we’re 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 repression and hiding who we are. Because we owe it to the people who have died for our rights, and who have died before they even got their own. And we owe it to the pioneers of the LGBTQ movement, like Paula Grossman, and to the people on the front lines of all civil rights movements, not to let them down.” She continued, making the speech more and more personal as she went along, even referencing Trump’s insults. “I am the most overrated and the most overdecorated…and currently I am the most over-berated,” she said. “The weight of all my art 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 “– and again she lowered her voice to a near whisper – “stay the fuck home”.