The typically jovial Tituss Burgess turned serious on Saturday night, when he traveled to St. Louis to accept the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign. During an emotional speech, Burgess revealed that on the same day he found out about the honor, he had what he described as a “terrible, albeit recurring, disagreement” with his mother.
Despite the fact that he is a “36-year-old grown-ass man,” Burgess explained that his mother believes he and his partner should sleep in separate bedrooms when they visit her. “I will respect your home, but you will not treat me as though there is something wrong with who I bring home,” he told her.
As someone who “despises traveling,” Burgess admitted that he almost turned down the chance to accept the award in Missouri. But since his mother similarly despises “emotional journeys,” he decided to say yes. “I’ve never been one to hide,” he said, “but if I don’t continue to show up, I am letting her and the like of many Americans get away with being comfortable in their ignorance.”
Burgess, who recently received his first Emmy nomination for his role as a proud, gay actor on Tina Fey’s Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, told the audience that one of the ways his mother tried to “test the waters” to see if he was gay was to “banish” him to the library. It was there that he first discovered his love for musical theater, and especially a VHS copy of The Wiz that he checked out so many times he wore it out.
To end his acceptance speech, Burgess delivered a gorgeous rendition of Diana Ross’s “Believe in Yourself,” which he said he felt she was singing directly to him every time he watched the classic film.