Long before “Orange is the New Black,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and even the groundbreaking “Will and Grace,” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people appeared on television in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
The Paley Center for Media hosted a gala Wednesday to celebrate the medium’s longtime positive contributions to the LGBT community. The fundraising event, held at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, highlighted the center’s expanded collection of 600-plus hours of programming featuring LGBT characters and themes.
Executive producer Norman Lear, who played a significant role introducing gay-related themes on television in the early ‘70s, was recognized. Lear was behind the influential sitcoms "All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Jeffersons.”
“He paved the way to dispel negative stereotypes, foster understanding and acceptance [and] challenge social norms,” said Maureen Reidy, president of the Paley Center.
As a kid growing up in Kansas, Eric Stonestreet, who plays a gay spouse and father on ABC’s hit “Modern Family,” recalled how important watching Lear’s programs were to him as a child. Stonestreet said Hollywood’s role in fostering acceptance and equality for gay, bisexual and transgender people cannot be understated.
“Hollywood is the town that creates and makes art, and it’s important to represent people in the [LGBT] community in a positive way so it gives somebody something to point to,” said Stonestreet adding that his character’s marriage to Mitchell, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who also attended the gala, has helped fans accept themselves and others.
Among gala attendees, a widely recognized turning point in the television’s representation of the LGBT community came with Ellen DeGeneres’ ‘90s sitcom “Ellen,” where her character revealed she was a lesbian. Another important milestone was the reality series “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy,” which had a team of gay men make over guests who were usually straight.
“It was a great time in TV history,” said Carson Kressley of the “Queer Eye” cast. “We didn’t have a political agenda. We were just trying to get rid of mullets and pleated khakis, but TV is a very intimate medium, and we were in people’s homes every Tuesday night. People became friends of ours through TV, [and] it made [being gay] OK.”
The event also recognized the role other people behind the camera have played in advancing the greater acceptance of LGBT themes and characters. Jill Soloway, the creator of Amazon’s critically acclaimed “Transparent,” which deals with a family and a transgender father, says the role her show has played in promoting equality is “a beautiful byproduct of making art.”
The struggle for equality continues, and that is why the Paley Center’s event and its newly expanded LGBT media collection are important, said Portia de Rossi who along with spouse Ellen DeGeneres co-chaired the event.
“It’s great to be able to look at the last 60 years and see how this conversation has developed toward equality for the LGBT community,” said de Rossi.
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