Gay Triumph

This moving vintage clip reminds us why we need to keep saying gay at all costs

When you think “Broadway,” many things come to mind. Bright lights, big personalities, lines of high-kicking chorines, fake musicals about Marilyn Monroe, Patti LuPone, The Tony Awards. And what, pray tell, do all of these things have in common?

That’s correct: they’re gay gay gay. Broadway is gay gay gay and has always been gay gay gay. But try telling that to Barbara Walters in 1983!

Somehow, it was only after the opening of Harvey Fierstein’s smash hit “Torch Song Trilogy” in the early 80s that mainstream news could no longer ignore Broadway’s most obvious truth: that everything that goes on there is gay as absolute blazes!

But that was news to Walters, who summed up “Torch Song Trilogy” ahead of her segment with Fierstein as a show with a new message. The message in question? “That homosexuals are human, just like the rest of us.”

Walters sat down with Fierstein during his star turn in the 1983 Broadway production of “La Cage Aux Folles,” the theatrical predecessor to the beloved 1996 film classic The Birdcage. Sadly, she didn’t exactly do her research.

Before speaking to the gay legend, Walters characterizes “Torch Song Trilogy” as “the first openly homosexual play ever to make money on Broadway.” Which…feels crazy. And Fierstein has no problem saying so.

Walters opens the interview by asking Fierstein point blank if things like love, monogamy, commitment, and enduring partnership are “unusual” for gay men. Fierstein, trying his level best to keep things cordial, explains that those things aren’t specifically straight ideas. “Those are human words,” he says. “Love, commitment, family, belong to all people.”

Walters continues asking ignorant questions, such as “what causes homosexuality” and “are you jealous of beautiful women,” and at one point Fierstein stops her in her tracks.

When Walters says that she wouldn’t be able to do an interview “like this” and put it on the air, and Fierstein corrects her. “You could have done it,” he says, “you would have had to fight your censors…but you could have done it. You know I am not the first star of a Broadway show.”

But wildly enough, Walters might not have known that. Judging from her questions, this is a woman who, before meeting Harvey Fierstein, probably that Liberace was simply a nice man who loved sparkly clothing and Sonja Henie.

“You’re the first openly-gay,” Walters says.

“Yeah but isn’t that ridiculous,” Fierstein answers. “that I’m getting all this attention because I’m the first openly gay—you know how many gay—you know that the women in your audience are sitting out there, and they go to see movies and they’re dying over these gorgeous men and you know they’re gay.”

Shots fired!

“And to the person watching tonight,” Walters continues, “who says ‘that’s disgusting, how dare you put this on the air,’ what’s your answer?”

“The frightening part for me about people like that,” Fierstein responds, “is that they haven’t opened themselves up enough to see the gay members of their family, right in their family. I’ve never heard of a family without a gay member in it.”

And that’s on period. Case closed. Leave it to Harvey to make it quite clear that gay people are, and always have been, everywhere. In every family, every culture, every corner of human existence. And especially on the Broadway stage, where we continue to thrive.

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