In a graduation speech to Tennessee State University’s (TSU) Class of 2023, Oprah Winfrey decried the relentless GOP campaign to dismantle the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how much of your lives have already been spent grappling with the extreme, complex issues of our time,” Winfrey told the students of TSU, where she also attended.
“You witnessed the storming of the Capitol and the death of civility. You are acutely aware that voting rights are being gutted, women’s rights are being dismantled, books are being banned, history’s being rewritten, the Supreme Court is being corrupted, the debt ceiling is being held hostage, the climate is changing, the LGBTQ+ community is under attack. The cold war is back. The leaders are behaving like children, the children are being gunned down by military-grade assault rifles.”
She said these words in a state that has passed a ban on public drag performance and has outlawed gender-affirming care for minors.
Winfrey told the students that they have more than enough to do to help make the world a better place but warned they will encounter people who try to convince them it’s not possible to make any real difference.
“But I believe Tennessee has a couple of Justins just a few miles from here who would respectfully disagree,” she said.
Winfrey was referring to state Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, two 28-year-old Democratic lawmakers in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Both Black men, they were expelled by state house Republicans for participating in a floor demonstration against the state’s lax gun laws following the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville.
Jones and Pearson, along with Rep. Gloria Johnson (D), a 60-year-old White woman, spoke out of turn at the podium and also led chants in the gallery with a bullhorn, calling for gun reform legislation. While Republicans temporarily expelled Pearson and Jones, they did not do the same to Johnson.
Winfrey emphasized, “There will never be anything in your life as fulfilling as making a difference in somebody else’s.”
But she said these acts of doing good don’t have to be “big and grand.”
“You start by being good to at least one other person every single day… That’s how you begin to change the world.”