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Soul Train Awards Proves Progress Is Possible, Renames a Gendered Award to Celebrate Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe gives a sly smile on the red carpet for the 2023 BET Soul Train Awards

This year’s Soul Train Awards celebrated Janelle Monaé with a powerfully inclusive honor: The Spirit of Soul Award.

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BET announced earlier this month that it would be renaming its longstanding Lady of Soul Award in order to properly honor Monaé, who is nonbinary and uses they/she pronouns. At a time when awards shows are increasingly being urged to eliminate or otherwise alter gender-based categories, and are dragging their feet to do so, this is a huge step forward.

“There’s nothing like being recognized by your own family,” Monáe said in their speech. “I’m so honored to have something like this for us that continues to evolve and showcase so many different forms of what soul can be.”

This is an incredible step, but it is still just one step toward full inclusion. It’s fantastically progressive for the Soul Train Awards to rename this honor to show Monáe the respect they deserve. But other categories are still gendered, including Best R&B/Soul Female Artist, for which Monáe was nominated.

Ideas of gender are rapidly changing, especially as Gen Z is already coming into adulthood. It’s inevitable that institutions like awards shows, that are rooted in strict binaries, will have to change. It’s nice to see progress being made and now we just have to keep that momentum moving forward.

(via Them, featured image: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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