'The Golden Girls' Was Surprisingly Forward-Thinking When It Came To LGBTQ+ Issues

Jan 13, 2022 by apost team

In many ways, “The Golden Girls” was an unlikely success. After all, a show about a group of single geriatric pals living in Miami doesn’t exactly sound so interesting, let alone funny. What’s more, the show was, as USA Today reports, incredibly progressive for its time. Not only did the show consider LGBTQ+ relationships, but the show’s very premise centered entirely on older women who weren’t afraid to talk about their love lives. And perhaps that’s partly why the show was so successful.

In other words, Golden Girls was a hit not despite its unlikely premise but because of it — because it was a show that was unafraid to tell new stories in a fun and interesting way. 

For those who aren’t familiar, Golden Girls focuses on the lives of four older women — Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), and Rose Nylund (Betty White) — who are all either divorced or widowed. From Betty White’s naive, gullible portrayal of Rose to Bea Arthur’s role as the ever-sarcastic Dorothy, each of the women had a unique and fun personality that kept the show fresh — fresh enough to win four golden globes over the course of its seven-year run.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the award-winning show got its start by chance in a Burbank studio back in 1984. Warren Littlefield, who was NBC’s senior vice president of comedy development at the time, told EW he got the idea while watching Doris Roberts and 63-year-old Selma Diamond argue with each other while they were filming a skit to promote Miami Vice.

Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty (1980s), (Fotos International/Getty Images)

Apparently, Diamond kept referring to the show as Miami Nice, which ticked Roberts off enough to lead to what must have been a pretty funny argument. In fact, the argument was so funny that it got the studio executives thinking: what about a show with a little geriatric humor?

Upon first receiving the script for the show, White is quoted as saying:

“It was the best script that I’d read, maybe, in life. You get so many bad scripts sent your way in this business, so many dogs. And I shouldn’t use that term because I love dogs.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Ahead of the show’s 35th anniversary in 2020, White was the last surviving actress of the series at the time at 98 years old. Earlier that year, she released a statement regarding the show, writing: "It was always great fun shooting each episode," she wrote "(I) truly miss everyone involved."

And while White tragically passed away at the end of 2021, the memory of Golden Girls will forever live on in the hearts of fans and in the 180 golden episodes that we continue to watch today. That’s especially true due to how progressive the show was.

Matt Baume, who created the YouTube series “Culture Cruise,” spoke to “Golden Girls’” relatively forward-thinking views on LGBTQ+ issues on the show’s first episode in 2018, specifically highlighting the episodes “Scared Straight” and “Sister of the Bride.”

In both episodes, Monty Markham plays Clayton Hollingsworth, a gay character who speaks openly about his sexuality on the show. And for the late 1980s and early ‘90s, that was pretty progressive.


Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanhan (2005), (Desiree Navarro/FilmMagic/Getty images)

“I spent a long time lying to myself,” Clayton says in “Scared Straight” when he comes out. “It felt a lot better when I stopped. It feels a lot better being honest with you, too.”

“Not only did they teach America how to be a friend to gay people, they also introduced millions of viewers to topics like coming out and gay marriage while also slipping in a message of queer empowerment,” Baume told HuffPost in 2018. “Over the course of these two episodes, we have a household of little old ladies helping a man come out, then welcoming him and his husband, and then promising to work on acceptance in the future.”

“Although even today there’s still a long way to go, ‘The Golden Girls’ provided a roadmap toward acceptance,” he added. “If these girls could do it, so can America.”

Beyond Markham’s character, the show also featured a character who is a transgender man, according to Decider

However, some have criticized the show, noting that it isn’t as progressive as it’s made out to be by fans. In a column for IndieWire, Jose Gallegos writes that the show “suffers from a formulaic flaw.” 

“Often times, (queer) characters are used to push the narrative forward. In terms of queer characters, their sexualities and gender are used as a narrative catalyst rather than as a character trait, and a majority of the episode is spent waiting for the gay man, the lesbian, or the transgender politician to come out of the closet,” he continues

With that said, even Gallegos writes that he’s an “avid fan” who “applauds the producers and writers for featuring LGBTQ characters.”

Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur (2004), (Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

What do you think about the show’s portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters? Did you realize the show had a reputation for being progressive? Let us know — and be sure to pass this story on to others.

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