Soapbox: Sandra Bernhard

In the ‘90s, Sandra Bernhard broke ground as television’s first openly lesbian series regular on Roseanne. Now the gay icon returns to her TV roots in DTLA, Logo’s first scripted series to feature gay leads since the network announced it would be shifting away from homocentric programming last February. The out comedian took a break from her hectic schedule to chat us up about gay rights, Obama’s re-election and portraying gay in the media.

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I love Roseanne and I loved doing that show. It was only a blessing. Morgan Fairchild played my girlfriend, and we were supposed to kiss under the mistletoe, but ABC made us cut the kiss just as our lips were ready to touch. That was the mandate back then. You couldn’t kiss another woman. We’ve really come far.

It’s always good to know the ground floor of a struggle and where it comes from: the feminist movement, the gay movement, the black movement. Any movement that’s been on the fringes has always been inspiring. Obviously,  gay marriage hasn’t been totally accepted or become a national law, which it should be. Everything should have shifted by now. The good news is, you eventually get there, but even when you’re there you must remain vigilant and stay appreciative of where you come from. It’s never easy.

I’m in a unique position of being in the entertainment business where I’m surrounded by people who are supportive.  My daughter has never come home from school and said people have said something disparaging. It’s never been an issue. I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to create that world for her and myself and my girlfriend. But this is not the norm. I have a lot of empathy for people who are out in most of America where people are still judgmental and freaked out. It’s really important for me to always be vigilant and watch out for people who don’t have my luxury.
It’s what we’re trying to accomplish with a network like Logo. We want to reach out with stories that have been true and have an effect on viewers. Beyond the niche, to go out to the rest of America that’s interested and wants to know about our lives and our world. These are great, universal stories that happen to be about gay people.

People want to be in relationships, they want to have families. I came out to the primarily gay male scene in the '70s when I first started performing. Everybody was running around going to the baths, changing partners, drinking and doing tons of drugs, and being insane. (I didn’t do that. I just hung out with those people. Drugs were never really my thing.) It was a fun time. Being gay had a different meaning and a different impact on society. Now we’ve been accepted so much more into mainstream culture. I think gay culture is also in danger of losing the unique aspect it had in society. It’s a mixed bag. It’s great that people are settling down and getting married and raising families. But there are certain aspects of the gay lifestyle I miss and I wish were still around.

Things change all the time. It goes to the extremes in all directions and comes back to a balance at the center. As an artist, my work is always about pushing it in both directions. I do the best I can do to make sure something important is being said.

With Obama’s win, I think he’ll be empowered. The second four years will be much easier to go for broke. I think he’ll step right on the coals and walk over them for gay rights, for women’s reproductive rights. He’ll place more people on the Supreme Court who will always make the right decisions for working class people. He’ll continue to do what he’s done and then some. Michelle Obama is so amazing for healthcare and getting people on track to eat the right food. They’re incredible people and they’ve had to tone it down because we’re racist in this country. I’d like to see them knock it out of the park this time.

Moderated by Mike Ciriaco; art by Dave Arkle​. Catch Sandra on DTLA, Wednesday’s on Logo