The world is a very different place for Lea Delaria today compared to when she first broke onto the national scene as one of the one of the first openly gay entertainers in the U.S.
The Orange is the New Black star shared her personal story and issues facing the LGBTQ+ community in her discussion titled Lea DeLaria: A Man for All Seasons for an audience of more than 1,000 in Rudder Auditorium on Texas A&M University’s campus Friday.
DeLaria’s discussion ranged from whimsical, when a department store dressing room attendant mistook her for a man, used homophobic language and other women in the dressing room came to her defense; to the somber, when she was beaten to the point of hospitalization on a San Francisco subway while people looked on; to the inspirational, when she asked the audience to be comfortable in their own skin and stand their ground on LGBTQ+ rights.
“You do not have to apologize to anyone on the planet for who you are and what you do,” DeLaria said.
While there is progress still to be made on the LGBTQ+ rights front, DeLaria said she was encouraged by progress from a time when it was illegal to be gay in all 50 states and she was twice jailed for “open and notorious homosexuality” in Missouri and Illinois. She used the dressing room and subway stories to juxtapose the progression toward acceptance.
“You have to understand that things were different back then,” DeLaria said. “It was scary to be gay…It’s such a small amount of time later, from [the subway attack] to complete strangers chasing a woman out of a dressing room for using homophobic language.”
She closed out the event by taking questions from the audience, which included students, community members and people from around the state. A student asked what’s next for the LGBTQ+ community, and DeLaria aimed her response to individuals who might be struggling with their own identities.
“It’s very easy for me to be this person and be who I am, it was easier for me when I was younger, and there was a time when it wasn’t easy and I struggled with it,” DeLaria said. “I would say ‘everybody be out,’ but a person can only be where they are. When you’re ready to come out and you know what to say to your parents, that’s when you come out. Until then, give yourself a break, don’t beat yourself because you’re not out, take it as it comes in your life.”