Queen Latifah Lifetime Achievement Award

Queen Latifah Ended Her Lifetime Achievement Award Speech With Love to Her Partner, Their Son, and a Happy Pride to Us All

"Be Black. Black is beautiful."

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During the 21st annual BET awards, the absolutely iconic Queen Latifah received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving entertainer.

I’ve been in awe of Queen Latifah since I was little. She taught me, early on, that you gotta let em’ know you ain’t a bitch or a hoe. She became my plus-size role model/writing career aspiration with Living Single’s Khadijah James and would show me a rather delightful outlook on life in movies like Last Holiday – because seriously, live your life in a way that’ll make you happy before your time is up.

Queen Latifah was also one of my earliest memories when it came to queer representation. There wasn’t a whole lot of it in the 90s, and the few instances I remember getting weren’t all that great, but Set It Off treated being queer like it was the most normal thing in the world. Cleo (played by Queen Latifah) has a girlfriend named Ursula (played by Samantha MacLachlan). We see them be intimate with each other and we, more importantly, see Cleo’s friends react in a way that’s completely genuine to the way your friends act when you make out with someone in front of them.

No one has an issue with Cleo having a girlfriend, nor is her being a lesbian the central focus of her character arc.

At the time, I didn’t realize how important this was, but I’d definitely circle back to that moment when trying to get folks to realize that, well, Black queer women existed in this space, and Black queer women just wanted to be able to live their lives and have their friends give them shit for being lovey-dovey with their significant other.

This brings me to Queen Latifah’s Lifetime Achievement Award Speech.

I knew I was going to be emotional when I watched this. Seeing someone I’ve been rooting for since childhood being recognized in such a way meant a lot to me. Queen Latifah spoke fondly of her parents, her friends, and fellow Black women in the industry. She brought up the importance of outlets like BET back when Black entertainers couldn’t get their work played in other places. “There was BET that allowed us to be in our fullness,” she said before telling us all to “Be Black. Black is beautiful.”

Queen Latifah went on to celebrate women, something she’s done for her entire career, and went on to extensively thank her longtime work partner, Shakim Compere, before letting everyone know that she was going to get off the stage.

But not before she said one last thing.

“I’m gonna get off this stage, but I thank you so much for all of you, the fans, for supporting every crazy-ass thing I’ve done through the years. And thank you for making Equalizer number one. Eboni, my love. Rebel, my love. Peace. Happy Pride!”

It’s the little smile she has after she says Happy Pride that gets me and the fact that she used such a prestigious moment in her career to announce it to the world. The build-up in her speech where she reminds us of the necessity of Black spaces that welcome everyone, her talking about the beauty of being Black and, more importantly, being allowed to BE Black, adds so much to her acknowledging her partner and their child together.

We’ve awarded this woman and acknowledged her place in the community, and in return, she’s wished us all a Happy Pride.

Wow.

There has been speculation about Queen Latifah’s sexuality for years. I dare say it dates back to her portrayal of Cleo and how my 13-year-old self would hear whispers about how that was “more than just acting.” While we have this message of coming out when you’re ready, there’s also this odd pressure that gets placed on people to just “come out already” if there’s even a hint of them being queer—and the more public the figure, the more folks feel that that person is obligated to come out. Yes, it would most definitely benefit the queer community to have more out, public Black figures, but the amount of scrutiny Black queer people face is a lot.

That’s not just outside the community, but within it as well.

There’s a reason why artists like Lil Nas X wrote a letter to 14-year-old Montero where he apologizes for breaking his promise about NOT coming out publically. As prominent of a figure as he is, he fully admits that he had no intention of coming out because he didn’t want to be “that” type of gay person.

On a personal note, I also hesitated in coming out, and when I did, it was (slowly) to the people who knew me. As far as posting about it, writing about it, and acknowledging it as much as I do today? That would take years after I initially came out at 18. In my mind, I already had to deal with racial discrimination, sexism, and even fatphobia, so it felt extremely daunting to add “queer” to all of that.

Black, queer people are fully aware of the discrimination they will most likely face, so if it takes them a while, I get it.

That being said, the way Queen Latifah announced it was simple, beautiful, and done at her own pace. You can tell she did it because she felt comfortable in doing so, and by doing that she showed us that coming out is something that we should be allowed to do when we choose to do it and that we should be celebrated in our community for simply being ourselves.

All hail the Queen.

(Image: BET)

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Author
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)