The history of LGBT television gets its day in “Playing Gay”


All of us have that one moment—the first time we ever saw and connected with a queer character on television. Television has the power to unite, divide, inform and entertain. Throughout the years, it’s also shown the world that queer and trans people not only exist, but have compelling stories to tell. Pedro Zamora showed Real World audiences that there were real people behind the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Ellen told an entire airport (and the world) she was gay, all the while taking a chance that it could derail her career. Sophia Bursett (Laverne Cox) gave trans women a voice in a way that hadn’t yet been done before on Orange is the New Black. TV matters, and that’s what the documentary Playing Gay aims to show us.

David Bender, longtime queer activist and writer, is at the helm of the documentary, along with producer David Permut, and executive producers Wilson Cruz (My So Called Life, GLAAD) and Wendy Abrams. The documentary will be filled with voices and experiences of actors, writers, directors and LGBT activists. Dannielle Owens-Reid (Everyone is Gay), Sheila Kuehl (former child star and politician), Rachel Maddow and just a few of the fascinating people who will be involved in the project.

In this teaser clip, which may require a tissue or two, Wilson Cruz tears up remembering his audition for My So-Called Life, and how he made sure to tell the producers of that show how important the character of Ricky was, even if he wasn’t chosen to play him. Shelia Kuehl tells how she was supposed to have her own spin-off of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis but the project was scrapped when network executives thought her to be too butch. These are just a few of the fascinating and important stories that make up our history on the small screen.

This week, you can turn on your TV and see over a dozen lesbian and bisexual characters on shows currently running. This is a massive change from even five years ago. Like The Celluloid Closet did for the LGBT history of film, Playing Gay will document this wonderful evolution of our favorite form of entertainment. Wilson Cruz nails it when he says in the clip, “That’s the thing about TV. It’s what makes it different from movies. TV, you are inviting people into your house. They are guests in your home. They become part of your family, and it’s powerful.”

Playing Gay is having a Kickstarter to raise funds for production, and the perks are pretty nice. T-shirts, exclusive behind the scenes footage, and even a set visit to the Rachel Maddow show for a big spender.

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