The screenwriter, producer and actor was honored at the Trevor Project’s annual gala on Monday night with the Hero Award for her work advancing LGBTQ representation on screen and behind-the-scenes.
Introduced by friend and “Dear White People” creator Justin Simien, Waithe in her moving speech spoke directly to queer youth, whom the Trevor Project serves with a 24-hour suicide hotline among other crisis intervention programs.
“In these trying times, images are very important, particularly for our impressionable youth. They’re looking to the big and small screen to see glimpses of themselves,” she told the crowd. “Too often gay stories are steeped in tragedy. Too often queer stories are told by people that aren’t even in the queer community. Our trials and tribulations are often exploited by Hollywood just to make a buck.”
In 2017, Waithe made Emmys history when she became the first black woman to receive an award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for her work on “Master of None,” which she also stars in. An episode in the Netflix series’ second season documents her character’s multiyear coming out story, which was inspired by her own experiences.
“I believe we must handle these images with care not in a way that makes all queer people seem perfect, but it’s our job to make sure all queer people are portrayed as human,” Waithe added. “Our youth deserve to know that they weren’t born to be perfect. They were born to be whole.”
Waithe is an executive producer for “The Chi,” a television drama she created about life in South Side Chicago, and she is set to write and produce a pilot series for TBS named “Twenties.” That show follows the “adventures of a queer black girl, Hattie, and her two straight best friends,” according to the official description.
In her speech, Waithe also made mention of the recent deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain as examples that even those society deems to be the most successful can be afflicted with mental illness.
“Last week was a tough one,” she said. “We lost two very bright souls, and the shock is even more severe cause because we all know suicide is preventable.”
“Many queer kids, they don’t feel love. They don’t feel seen and they don’t feel heard,” she continued. “I don’t just want these kids to live, but I want them to live their best lives because we as a society will benefit from all the many gifts they have to share.
“Love Simon” director Greg Berlanti was also honored at the event for his work in film and television with out-and-proud athletes Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon serving as hosts.