David Bohnett Speeches

Remarks upon receiving the ‘Trailblazer Award’ from the Lambda Alumni Association of the University of Southern California

Beverly Hills CA

Thank you, Dr Folt, for that heartwarming and generous introduction. I am also very grateful to the leadership of the USC Lambda Alumni Association for this award.

It’s been an honor and a privilege to support Dr Folt’s leadership as President of USC for the past five years. As a Member of the USC Board of Trustees, I’ve witnessed first-hand and up-close Carol’s dedication and exemplary commitment to our University.

Since the beginning of her tenure, Dr Folt has led USC with a laser focus on students; student welfare, safety, campus experience and academic achievement are her true north. In my 50-year journey at USC, I have never felt nor experienced the level of dedication and focus on our student body as I’ve witnessed under Carol’s tenure.

Among Dr Folt’s other notable achievements include a dramatic increase in research grants awarded across the University, recruitment of the best and the brightest from academia and higher education, myriad initiatives that put USC in the forefront of sustainability, and our transformative Moonshots including our new multifaceted Frontiers of Computing initiative.

And Carol is the inspiration for the theme of my brief remarks as I accept this Trailblazer Award and what it represents. That theme being the importance of standing up for the rights of every person, independent of their background, socio-economic status, political, and religious beliefs.

My own trailblazing began not when I came out as gay in my junior year at USC, and, not even in graduate school at the University of Michigan, where I worked as a telephone hotline counselor and student advisor in Michigan’s Gay and Lesbian Student Counseling Office.

My career as a trailblazer started while stuffing envelopes with fellow volunteers in the office conferencer oom of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, many years ago here on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. We were stuffing envelopes with invitations to the very first GLAAD Awards to be held later that year, not knowing if anyone would come, much less if the people we were honoring would even show up. (Turns out they all did).

It was during that envelope stuffing session that one of the women was discussing her own experience of discrimination, both as a lesbian, and also the sexism she battled as a woman. And at that moment, it dawned on me, fighting for my own rights as a gay male wasn’t enough, I have a responsibility to widen my own aperture and see discrimination through a much broader and inclusive lens.

At that moment, not only was I a gay activist, but I became a feminist, and an advocate for all those who face oppression of any sort. The realization dawned on me that in order to succeed in my own quest for full equality for lesbians and gay men I had to stand against oppression targeting any group or individual.

That’s when my trailblazing really began, and I therefore had the responsibility to go forth and stand up for the right of all people to live up to their full potential. To be sure, I maintained my focus on the quest for full equality for my own community but I also no longer remained silent when I had the opportunity to speak up and work on behalf of the rights of all others.

So, at this point, I’d like you to join me in a little experiment. If you’re comfortable, please take out your phone and place it face down underneath your seat, I promise you my remarks only have a few minutes to go.

I’ve asked you to do this as a gesture of full presence and commitment to the cause of fighting oppression. The act up putting down your phone is a symbol of putting aside individual priorities to focus on collective issues.

Next, I’d like everyone to stand up in front of their seat. Thank you.

Standing up is a symbol of what rights you stand for individually as a person, and what rights you stand for on behalf of others.

As I mentioned in my own remarks previously, we cannot achieve equality for ourselves unless we speak out and stand up at the same time for the rights of others.

Please take a moment in your own mind to reflect on what rights for yourself that you’re standing up for, and who else and what rights for them are you standing up in solidarity……

Lastly, in a moment I’d going to ask for a show of hands from a few people for who are willing to share what standing up for others means to them.

And I’ll start.

I’m standing up for all the hospital patients from underserved communities in Los Angeles who have access to quality health care by the USC medical team at LA County General Hospital. I’m also standing up for the rights of all those who must fight for the right to cast their vote and make their voice heard. Is there anyone who would like to raise their hand and share whose rights they stand for?

Thank you, and please all sit down.

It’s my hope that we’ve all experienced the act of standing and speaking as it relates to the larger theme of collective action. Every act of standing up and speaking out, no matter how small it seems, contributes to the broader struggle against oppression. We are all part of the great Trojan Family, the hallmark of which is the support for each other and our commitment to the Trojan ideal of responsible global citizenship and support for the values of USC.

Today, I have the privilege of sharing this Trailblazer Award with this room full of trailblazers, and I’m grateful to Lambda, Dr Folt, everyone here for your recognition and support. Thank you very much.