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At Monday night’s Straight for Equality awards gala hosted by PFLAG, Melissa Harris-Perry addressed the cancellation of her MSNBC show and apologized to fans.
Accepting the Straight for Equality in Media award, Harris-Perry choked back tears toward the end of an emotional acceptance speech that touched on what it means to be an LGBT ally, the need for intersectionality in the civil rights movement, and her fangirl obsession with Beyoncé.
But it was the very end of her speech—when Harris-Perry dropped the mic on the network television scandal that brought an abrupt end to her eponymous show (which people often lovingly tagged #nerdland on Twitter)—that brought the entire crowd at the PFLAG event to its feet for an emotional standing ovation.
What I really want to say tonight is…not only thank you for the award, but I really want to say, I’m sorry. Because I knew Nerdland was special. But I don’t think I knew how special it was until it was over, and many people began to tell me how special it was to them. And if I could have held on longer, I would have. I really would have. And I’m very sorry because I know that what my producers did every week and what we did every week, and the voices that we tried to bring…was because other people weren’t doing it. And so I am so sorry, because I am sorry that they are gone. But I promise you, we will keep trying to bring these voices and to elevate these stories in whatever little spaces in the world that we can. And I promise you that we will continue not to be allies, but to be family. To be citizens, and to be coworkers in the work of equality. Now and forever. Nerdland forever.
Melissa Harris-Perry was cancelled in Feburary after a growing online debate over the host being allegedly left out of the network’s election coverage—a debate that culminated in a scathing email Harris-Perry sent to her staff explaining that she planned to walk off the show in protest.
“It is profoundly hurtful to realize that I work for people who find my considerable expertise and editorial judgment valueless to the coverage they are creating,” wrote Harris-Perry in the February staff email.
Harris Perry dubbed her show’s voracious fanbase #nerdland, and in the wake of her departure from MSNBC, a debate over the lack of diversity in news media arose—much of the discourse taking place on social media around the hashtag #nerdlandforever.
As Harris Perry stood on stage at the PFLAG event Monday night, she also carefully mulled over what it means for a straight, cisgender woman to be dubbed an ‘ally’ to the LGBT community.
“I think ally is a weird word,” said Harris-Perry. “I think its a word that somehow separates us from these stories of who we are. ‘Ally’ suggests that somehow you exist in some space of empowerment and you are, like, helping out people who need you. How ridiculous. We are together, in community.”
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Noted author Janet Mock, who hosts MSNBC’s weekly online talk show So Popular!, introduced Harris-Perry with high praise. Mock referenced the 2012 launch of Melissa Harris-Perry on the network, saying that the host adeptly made “complex issues accessible while also not sacrificing her intellectual rigor and humor.” She noted that Harris Perry’s show was one of few places where people like herself—an out transgender woman who happens to be black, feminist, and a fashion and pop culture expert—could be their whole selves while participating in public discourse.
“She invited people who are so often silenced yet talked about and discussed, to be the experts of their own lives on national television. That is a rare gift,” said Mock.
“To put it simply,” Mock added, “We are smarter because Dr. Harris Perry exists.”
Photo via D. Dipasupil/Getty Images
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.