When Kerry Weaver is first introduced in season two of ER, there is little to suggest we are about to meet one of network television’s first-ever lesbian icons. Nurse Ratched jokes and cruel impressions of her walking with a cane (Kerry has hip dysplasia) make up much of the hospital ‘banter’ among her colleagues. However, this ableism and misogyny tells us more about her colleagues than it does about Kerry.
She is a talented doctor and a skilled administrator. Although her fellow doctors have little patience for her bureaucracy, it quickly becomes clear that Kerry’s attention to detail improves the quality of care for patients in the emergency room.
1. Even before Kerry Weaver came out, she was a passionate defender of civil rights.
When her colleague Jeanie Boulet is revealed to be HIV+, Kerry not only provides emotional support but fights for Jeanie to continue working as a physician’s assistant at County General.
While Mark Greene – allegedly ER’s moral compass – struggles to get past his prejudice and attempts to block Jeannie from working with patients, Kerry pulls legislation and builds a successful case to put to the hospital’s administration. Working alongside Jeanie and a reluctant Mark, Kerry helps to create hospital guidelines, putting in place a policy that protects HIV+ staff.
2. During season seven Kerry Weaver develops an intense friendship with Kim Legaspi – County’s staff psychiatrist.
As the two grow closer Kerry comes to realize that she’s a lesbian. To begin with, Kerry isn’t ready to go public with her sexuality, which puts a lot of strain on her relationship with Kim.
They break up after Kim is falsely accused of sexual misconduct towards a patient, resulting in the County’s chauvinistic Chief of Staff leading a homophobic crusade against Kim. Although the relationship doesn’t last, Kerry ultimately does something incredibly brave. In order to protect Kim from his prejudice, she comes out to Robert Romano.
3. Only when she begins a serious relationship with Sandy Lopez – a gorgeous African-American firefighter – does Kerry Weaver feel comfortable being open about her sexuality.
While there are definite issues with Sandy outing Kerry through a public, passionate kiss in ER’s eighth season, the dynamic of their relationship works. Whereas Kerry is highly logical and pragmatic, Sandy is spontaneous and adventurous. The two women balance each other out.
And this relationship shows a new side to Kerry. Now comfortable with her identity as a lesbian, Kerry becomes fearless about challenging homophobia in the hospital. She and Sandy go to socials together, build a life together, and even start a family together.
4. The relationship between Kerry Weaver and Sandy Lopez was a ground-breaking moment.
It was the first time in network television history that a lesbian couple had been given a meaningful story arc that was framed compassionately. Sadly, it was not to last. In season ten, not long after the birth of their son, Sandy dies of injuries sustained while fighting a fire. Kerry is devastated. And while she is grieving Sandy, she is hit with the prospect of another loss.
Disapproving of their daughter’s relationship with Kerry, Sandy’s parents sue her for custody of baby Henry. This battle for custody of her son is central to Kerry’s story in season ten. Eventually, Mr. and Mrs. Lopez agree to Kerry having full custody of Henry on the condition that they care for him while she’s at work.
5. The drama doesn’t stop there.
When County’s former Chief of Staff Robert Romano dies in a helicopter accident, he leaves a significant sum of money to the hospital. As new Chief, Kerry Weaver decides how it will be spent. She endows County with a new Gay and Lesbian Medical Centre – named after the notoriously bigoted Dr. Romano.
Not only does Kerry create a space where patients can access healthcare free from homophobia; she gets the last laugh on a man whose prejudice towards women and minorities has blighted several careers, including her own. This is a level of pettiness that we can all appreciate.
In the thirteenth season of ER, Kerry leaves the show. After playing Kerry for over a decade, Laura Innes decided to take a role in the production of ER. Kerry’s departure was a bittersweet moment for lesbian and gay audiences, marking the end of a representational first. She was a disabled, white lesbian with a Black son.
In the decade since ER’s last episode, more lesbian and gay characters have become visible in mainstream media. And yet three-dimensional lesbian characters living intersectional lives remain a rare thing. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Kerry Weaver. She was a complicated, nuanced character who presided over the emergency room – and our hearts.