Yara Shahidi Wows Crowd at GLSEN Respect Awards with Powerful Speech About Equality

Yara Shahidi knows how to make the most of the spotlight.

The grown-ish actress, 18, brought the audience to its feet during the 2018 GLSEN Respect Awards in Los Angeles on Friday, delivering empowering and wise words encouraging open-mindedness and equal rights as she took home the GLSEN Gamechanger Award.

“We should all feel deserved and supported in expressing our right to being our whole selves, limited by nothing regardless of ethnicity, gender identities, sexuality, ability, religion or any other identity that we choose,” Shahidi said. “There should be safe spaces in which our presence and existence are inherently valued, but more than that, I believe in promoting equity. It is dangerous to promote an identity by narrative.”

The actress gave a special shout-out to her “Papa,” Afshin Shahidi, for inspiring her activism.

“Thank you to my Papa for sharing with my mama, my brother, my aunties, my uncles, my brother, basically all of us, that a fight to help one person belong is a fight that belongs to all of us,” she said. “I am so grateful to stand amongst you.”

Shahidi was recognized for her contribution to girls’ education with the Young Women’s Leadership Network and the Let Girls Learn initiative. She has also advocated for gender parity in the STEM field.

Watch her crowd-rousing speech in the video above.

The teenager has kept a high profile as an advocate for social and political causes and was featured as one of TIME magazine’s annual 30 Most Influential Teens.

Along with Shahidi, Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, as well as Ellen Pompeo and Twentieth Century Fox Film, were honored at the award show.

The GLSEN Respect Awards were introduced in 2004 and are held annually in Los Angeles and New York. The events recognize the work of students, educators, individuals and corporations who serve as exemplary role models and have made an impact on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

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