Christopher Polk—Getty Images for Human Rights Campaign
March 20, 2017 3:12 PM EDT

America Ferrera‘s powerful speech at the Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala led to three standing ovations as she spoke about LGBTQ equality and the importance of diversity in the media.

Speaking to the audience on Saturday evening as she accepted the HRC’s Ally for Equality Award, the American actress said she did not have many role models as a child. “I didn’t grow up seeing a lot of examples of short, brown, chubby, poor daughters of immigrant parents [who] grow up to be successful actresses and loud activists,” Ferrera said. “I had to use my imagination most of the time. But I was extremely fortunate to come across friends, mentors and teachers who encouraged me to use my talent and my voice.”

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants star went on to thank her high school drama teacher, Sue Freitag, who was in the audience. “In my senior year of high school, when I struggled with feelings of depression and isolation, she created a safe space for me,” Ferrera said. “I will never forget the first time she invited me to eat my cold pad thai with her in the drama theater room. It was the first time that entire year I felt like I was going to make it through high school.”

Katy Perry also gave an impassioned speech at the gala as she accepted the organization’s National Equality Award. The pop star told the audience about how she would “pray the gay away at [her] Jesus camps,” explaining that the “bubble started to burst” when built friendships and work relationships with people who identify as LGBTQ.

“It’s time to lead with empathy, grace and compassion, now more than ever,” Perry said. “I’ll never cease to be a champion, an ally, a spotlight and a loving voice for all LGBTQ-identifying people.”

Write to Kate Samuelson at

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