‘Orange is the New Black’ actress Lea DeLaria visits Penn State as part of National Coming Out Week

Lea DeLaria spoke at Penn State on Wednesday as part of National Coming Out Week.
Lea DeLaria spoke at Penn State on Wednesday as part of National Coming Out Week. Invision for the Television Academy

Students wrapped around the auditorium, as “We are Penn State… We are not straight,” chants rang out, and it was clear the audience was full of energy and excitement for the upcoming guest.

As a part of National Coming Out Week, the LGBTQA Student Resource Center hosted Lea DeLaria, the first openly gay comic on television in America, at Alumni Hall in the HUB-Robeson Center on Wednesday night.

DeLaria is most commonly known for her role as Carrie “Big Boo” Black on the hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”

“Did you guys see season three?” she asked. “Wasn’t I awesome?”

Penn State junior Shannon Mathers, of Warrington, said, “I love ‘Orange is the New Black,’ so when I heard that a major character from the show was coming here, I had to see her. You got to love Big Boo.”

OITNB aside, DeLaria does much more than act. She is also well rounded in aspects of the entertainment world such as jazz, musicals and comedy.

DeLaria traveled to Penn State mainly to talk about LGBTQA issues — the “state of queerdom,” as she calls it. “I’ve been a professional lesbian for 30 years,” she joked.

Although she used a lot of colorful language and explicit humor, DeLaria’s message was quite clear.

“It was about loving yourself for who you are no matter what and not caring what anyone thinks about you,” said Josh Keilholtz, from the event management office at the HUB.

“In 1982 in San Francisco at Gay Pride week, I was waiting for a train, and a man called me a dyke, spit on me, punched me and kicked me while I was down. That was in front of 30 mostly gay people, and not one of them helped,” DeLaria shared. “Thirty years later, a group of heterosexual women came together to force a homophobe away just because she said something to me. That is a major amount of progress in our society.”

DeLaria emphasized the importance of change in our country over the years. “I find that we have done an incredible amount of work for people to see who and what we are,” she said, “ and that we as an LGBTQA community spend a lot of time arguing about our differences rather than embracing them. When we come together — that’s when we’re amazing.”

In a moving scene, DeLaria sang “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You,” while tearing up signs that read “DOMA” and “PROP8,” both acts that limited gay rights. “A lot more things need to die out there,” she continued, holding up signs reading “Donald Trump,” “Pineapple on pizza,” and “Naming your child North West,” followed by loud applause.

She answered students’ questions and, as anticipated, many “Orange is the New Black” answers were revealed. She said after she auditioned, the casting director loved her so much that the part of Big Boo was created just for her. DeLaria said that she related a lot to Big Boo’s backstory, especially growing up with the label of being a “dyke,” and that those early scenes were the most touching to shoot.

As far as the LGBTQA community, she said, “We have so much left to do.”

“Now it’s about trying to win the hearts and minds of the people,”which she said “Orange is the New Black” did a good job with.

“Don’t just sit around and talk about it — go out and do it.”

Her talk ended the same way it began — with a “We Are” and a standing ovation.