Thank You Erica Kane
Photo: Yolanda Perez
The first decade of the 21st Century brought lots of new, more positive LGBT images on film and television. Some might argue that Showtime’s Queer As Folk made the biggest impact, raising the bar dramatically with its depiction of a community of gay and lesbian friends.
Or that The L Word in 2004 not only broke ground but created a mild earthquake in its depiction of a group of hot, sassy, professional women who happened to be lesbian. How about the debut in 2005 of an entire channel devoted to LGBT images, MTV Network’s LOGO?
But if you’re talking mainstream acceptance, I don’t think any of these can touch the impact of Bianca Montgomery when she came out to her mother, Erica Kane, on All My Children to kick off the new millennium in 2000. Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) is one of the most celebrated drama queens in soap opera history. The drama even spilled over into Lucci’s personal life, after she was nominated for an Emmy and lost for, like 147 years in a row. That this would happen to her, making Bianca (played by Eden Riegel) the first established lesbian character on daytime TV—was just one more agonizing quandary with which her devoted fans could empathize.
I could never devote the kind of time and emotion it takes to follow soaps, but thanks to quality time with my grandmother, I’ve had forays into the drama and trauma that give soap operas the most dedicated followers in the history of TV. At first I was shocked that my conservative granny and hundreds of thousands like her across the country watched what turned out to be some pretty racy stuff. But soap fans are extremely loyal and personally invested in the lives of these daytime characters, and like family members, they accept them the way they are; which is why it’s such a big deal that one of the darlings of daytime came out as a lesbian.
America knew Bianca, she was part of the All My Children family from the moment she was born. They could feel for Erica, oh long suffering Erica, when she was devastated by the news that her daughter was gay. But Erica, as with all the drama in her life, rose above self pity, and the fans rose with her. After all, this was her daughter whom she loved dearly.
Jump ahead to February, 2009, and Erica is planning her daughter’s wedding—to another woman. And the controversy among most fans wasn’t that she was marrying another woman, it was whether she was marrying the right woman.
We always hear that coming out to people you love puts a face on what it means to be gay. Before the decade began, positive images were sporadic. All these new shows, characters, LOGO, are incredible, mostly for giving gays and lesbians images to which they can relate.
But here’s a program that is giving its huge mainstream audience a glimpse of what it really (more or less) means to be gay by outing someone they know and love and who has a well-rounded life.
It creates a different reaction than two same-sex strangers who kiss on the news or a purposefully slanted commercial meant to scare voters away from allowing gay people equal rights.
If people don’t know you, it’s easy to negate you. If they know you, people might be forced to rethink their attitudes, the way Erica did.
Blogger Bio: For more than a decade Laurie Schenden has covered the entertainment industry for Curve, the Los Angeles Times and Germany's Spotlight magazine. Her cover stories for Curve magazine have included Sharon Stone, Melissa Etheridge, and the cast of "The L Word." She’s also an award winning documentary filmmaker and one of the co-creators of the “Laughing Matters” film series, seen on Logo.