Each year, GLAAD presents The Stephen F. Kolzak Award to an LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting LGBTQ acceptance. Past recipients of this honor include Janet Mock, Sean Hayes, Jim Parsons, and Troye Sivan. This year’s recipient is award-winning actress, singer, and activist Michaela Jaé (Mj) Rodriguez.
To celebrate her receipt of The Stephen F. Kolzak Award, here are 5 times Michaela Jaé Rodriguez broke ground for the LGBTQ community!
5. Her Role as Blanca
FX’s POSE redefined LGBTQ representation in television. Rodriguez played, Blanca, mother of the House of Evangelista, who took in struggling queer and trans young people in the Ballroom Scene who had no where else to turn. In the show, Blanca has to learn how to navigate the challenges of being HIV-positive in the 80’s while owning a business, being a mother, losing close friends, and competing in the underground ballroom scene. Alongside co-stars Billy Porter, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson and so many other talented LGBTQ actors of color, the critically acclaimed series takes the audience on a beautiful and painful journey of love, heartbreak, family, and discrimination. While the series’ finale aired in the summer of 2021, POSE will forever go down in history as the first show to truly center and celebrate Black trans lives, and leading the charge was Mj Rodriguez.
4. Making Award Show History
For her portrayal as Blanca on POSE, Michaela Jaé has become the first trans actress to win a Golden Globe, naming her 2021’s Best Actress in a Drama Series. She was also the first transgender person ever to be nominated for this honor. Her stellar performance as Blanca also earned her a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy Award in 2021, making her the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy in any lead acting category. Additionally, Rodriguez was the first openly transgender woman to win Best Actress in Television at the NAACP Imagen Awards and to be nominated for the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series. Her commercial success has made her a household name and brought a great deal of awareness to trans issues.
3. “Something to Say”
Not only is Michaela an award winning actress but she is also a singer and songwriter. Her debut single titled “Something to Say” is a genre-bending song all about unity. “This song is for everyone around the world, for them to stop, look around and see how we have more in common than we actually realize,” she told Grazia. “To stand up for what we believe. To embrace one another’s differences. Let’s stand for love! We are one!” In a press release Rodriguez called the song and its accompanying music video, “a poignant celebration of equality and love.” While discussing her goals and the meaning behind the song with The Advocate, Rodriguez said, “I want people to band together, come together as one, and really try to understand people’s plights, even though they may have never walked it before. I think ‘Something to Say’ really spoke to that.” “Something to Say” is a true queer anthem and a celebration of trans women. Rodriguez is currently working on her first EP and looks forward to sharing her many talents with the world.
2. From Voguing to Vogue
Michaela Jaé has graced the covers of countless mainstream magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vanity Fair. This year, she received the prestigious honor of being named one of TIME’s 2022 Women of the Year. In her interview with TIME she shared: “When I was younger, I didn’t have representation for anyone of color in the LGBTQI community. Now, I want to be the example. I want to show them that it’s possible.” And an example she is. This isn’t the only honor she’s received throughout her career The Advocate named her “Person of the Year” in 2021. Upon acceptance of this honor, she told The Advocate, “I’m going to make sure that the door is constantly kept open. I’m going to put a little stopper in that door so that it can open up as much as it can.” In addition to these honors, Rodriguez was also the first ever trans model to be featured on the cover of Latina Magazine.
1. Her Activism
If her work as an actress, model, and musician wasn’t enough, Michaela Jaé is also an outspoken activist for transgender rights and Black Lives Matter. In 2019, alongside POSE co-stars, Rodriguez served as a grand marshall of the 2019 Pride March in New York City. They marched alongside volunteers from The Trevor Project, a non-profit that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth. She has also used her platform to speak out and encourage her followers to support the Black Lives Matter movement. In May of 2020, Rodriguez posted a video on Twitter of her marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd.
I Peacfully Protested Today in my Home Town Newark aka Brick City. Why? Because my life is always in jeopardy Mentally and Physically no matter my Celebrity status! FOR CHANGE… teach our babies to LOVE. See my Black, Rican, Melanin, TRANS Life!!!!! THEN WE CAN TALK!pic.twitter.com/hRZB1RBPTt
— Michaela Jaé (Mj) (@MjRodriguez7) May 30, 2020
With the recent influx of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the United States, specifically targeting transgender youth, Rodriguez turned to Twitter to express her frustration, stating, “PROTECT TRANS YOUTH! Most trans youth come to their parents, especially ones who are supportive, when it comes to furthering their transition. THAT IS NOT ABUSE. The youth of 2022 are much more aware of themselves through knowledge and safe positive influence! Stop attacking us!” Michaela’s activism never stops. In an interview with Variety, she shared, “I’m obviously fighting for my community simply because I’m trans, and I have to do that, and I do it because that’s my existence. I wake up in the morning, and that is my activism.”
On her outstanding legacy, GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis stated: “Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is an undeniable talent who is changing the way audiences understand trans people while breaking down barriers for the trans community and LGBTQ people of color within the entertainment industry,”
Her career and advocacy are what makes Michaela Jaé a true icon. Rodriguez’s next big role will be starring alongside Maya Rudolph in the upcoming Apple TV+ series Loot. This year’s Stephen F. Kolzak Award will be presented to Rodriguez at the 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles by tick… tick… BOOM! co-star Andrew Garfield. The 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards will take place in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, April 2nd, 2022 and in New York on Friday, May 6th, 2022.
The 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees were published, released, or broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2021. The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies, which fund GLAAD’s work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, will be held in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, April 2, 2022 and in New York at the Hilton Midtown on Friday, May 6, 2022. To purchase tickets for the ceremonies, click here. You can keep up with the latest developments by following GLAAD on Twitter and Instagram.