Ilene Chaiken, “Empire” executive producer and showrunner, was honored with a 2016 GLSEN Respect Award last evening at a ceremony in New York City for her work in representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on television. GLSEN is a national education organization that aims to ensure safe and affirming schools for all students. Since 2004, the GLSEN Respect Awards have turned a spotlight on the work of those who serve as role models for LGBT youth with events in Los Angeles and New York each year.
“Empire” features a character named Jamal Lyon, a gay man. GLSEN notes that the show’s depiction of Jamal has been called “groundbreaking and game changing for LGBT youth of color who often struggle to find positive depictions of people like themselves in media.” Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal on the hit FOX series, presented Ilene with her GLSEN Respect Award last evening.
“It’s been thrilling to see Jussie stand in solidarity with his LGBT brothers and sisters, and exhilarating to see him able to do so with the conviction that it lifts us all, and with the confidence that it doesn’t in any way limit him or his opportunities as an artist,” Ilene said in her remarks. “Just a few years ago, those triumphs seemed far off and unattainable. They no longer do. We’re in the midst of an evolutionary change in our culture. But it didn’t happen spontaneously, all on its own. It’s a change that GLSEN has fought for over more than two decades. And it’s a battle yet won. That’s why we’re here tonight in support of GLSEN.”
After congratulating her fellow award winners, Ilene thanked Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman and their colleagues for putting “Empire” on the air and strongly supporting the show.
Ilene closed her comments by urging the audience to continue supporting GLSEN. “Keep fighting for equality and dignity and a better future for LGBT youth and for everyone on the planet.”
Prior to “Empire,” Ilene created the critically acclaimed Showtime series “The L Word” in 2004, which portrayed LGBT characters.
ABC News personality George Stephanopoulos, actress and comedian Ali Wentworth, and media agency Optimedia were also honored with 2016 GLSEN Respect Awards. Colorado teacher Amber Schweitzer was given GLSEN’s Educator of the Year Award, and New York City’s Academy for Young Writers Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) was given the GSA of the Year Award.
Here are some photos from last night’s event: