Connect with us

Arts & Entertainment

Oprah’s gayest shows

Talk show legend never shied from LGBT topics. Her last episode aired on Wednesday.

Published

on

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

Oprah, even in her early years, never shied from LGBT topics on her eponymous show, which ended its run this week. (Photo courtesy of Harpo Productions)

Everybody knows Oprah ended her eponymous talk show this week, but one thing missed in the mainstream hoopla was how often and unabashedly she dealt with LGBT topics during her 25-year run.

Oprah and her flock have consistently denied speculation that she herself may be gay. Gay OWN talk show host Brad Lamm told the Blade in March the question has lingered so long he finds it “offensive.” Winfrey confessed frustration over the issue to Barbara Walters in a 2010 interview because its persistence, she said, implied dishonesty on her part.

A look back through the topics of the show’s 4,561 episodes reveals a bounty of LGBT guests, perhaps none more memorable than a 1987 landmark episode that found Oprah visiting Williamson, W.Va. (population: 5,600) to interview Mike Sisco, a gay man who’d contracted AIDS while living in Dallas and who’d returned home to his family in West Virginia.

Word had spread in the small town that Sisco had AIDS and hysteria ensued when he went swimming in a public swimming pool. Sisco told Oprah residents were fleeing “like people do in those science fiction movies when they see Godzilla in the street or something.” The mayor closed the pool and Sisco was ostracized.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah interviews the late Mike Sisco in his hometown of Williamson, W.Va., in 1987. Sisco, who was gay and had AIDS, caused hysteria by swimming in a public pool. (Photo courtesy of Harpo Productions)

It was the height of AIDS hysteria when confusion about how the disease could be contracted was at its peak. Sisco said he agreed to do the show to help educate the public. Rumors were running rampant in the town that Sisco had been seen spitting on food at the local McDonald’s and on produce at a grocery store.

“Mike Sisco’s story is heartbreaking because it shows the reactions/actions of human beings when fear takes hold, when ignorance is abundant and when there is a mob mentality,” blogger Lola Nicole wrote. “[He] went to be with his family so they could care for him, so he could feel loved. He got exactly the opposite.”

Last September, as Oprah started her final season, she visited Sisco’s three sisters, Patricia, Tina and Anna. Sisco died in 1996 and controversy surrounded him until the bitter end — a family fight ensued about where he could be buried. In the ensuing years, his sister Anna had come out as a lesbian.

Oprah also interviewed several of the residents who’d been against Sisco’s presence in the original episode. Some said they’d wished they’d been more compassionate.

Oprah said her goal in doing both episodes was to remind people to be compassionate.

“I think that is the complete message of this whole series we did here today and 23 years ago,” she said at a press conference after the 2010 episode. “I understand people’s fear because in 1987 we still didn’t know everything and it’s understandable that people would have questions and what was represented here in Williamson really was a microcosm for the country. We used Williamson as a symbol for what was going on in the rest of the country.”

Other famous LGBT-related episodes include:

  • Gay pianist Liberace made his final public appearance on the show on a Christmas Day episode in 1986. He died about six weeks later of AIDS-related complications.
  • Ellen DeGeneres came out on a 1997 episode. Oprah also appeared on her sitcom as her therapist.
  • A 2003 episode that had run without incident initially, was rerun in 2005 and caused a major controversy because a guest gave an explanation of rimming, albeit in a hetero context.
  • A landmark 2004 episode called “A Secret Sex World: Living on the Down Low” brought the largely black phenomenon of married men having sex with men on the side to light. It became part of the national lexicon.
  • Last November, singer Ricky Martin discussed being a gay father.
  • In March, “Family Ties” actress Meredith Baxter discussed being a lesbian.
  • A January episode was devoted to coming out.
  • In May, 2008, Oprah interviewed Cher and Tina Turner at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Oprah idol Diana Ross also made a handful of appearances on the show.
  • An October 2006 episode was called “Wives Confess They are Gay.”
  • A March, 2009 episode was called “Women Leaving Men for Other Women.”
  • The “Will & Grace” cast convened in May 2006 for a farewell episode.
  • In July, 2010 former high school football quarterback Kimberly Reed discussed her late ‘90s sex change. Her documentary was shown at Reel Affirmations.
  • And just weeks ago, Oprah interviewed Chaz Bono about his transition and new documentary and book.
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Photos

PHOTOS: Night of Champions

Team DC holds annual awards gala

Published

on

Team DC President Miguel Ayala speaks at the 2024 Night of Champions Awards on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Team DC, the umbrella organization for LGBTQ-friendly sports teams and leagues in the D.C. area, held its annual Night of Champions Awards Gala on Saturday, April 20 at the Hilton National Mall. The organization gave out scholarships to area LGBTQ student athletes as well as awards to the Different Drummers, Kelly Laczko of Duplex Diner, Stacy Smith of the Edmund Burke School, Bryan Frank of Triout, JC Adams of DCG Basketball and the DC Gay Flag Football League.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Continue Reading

Photos

PHOTOS: National Cannabis Festival

Annual event draws thousands to RFK

Published

on

Growers show their strains at The National Cannabis Festival on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 National Cannabis Festival was held at the Fields at RFK Stadium on April 19-20.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Continue Reading

Theater

‘Amm(i)gone’ explores family, queerness, and faith

A ‘fully autobiographical’ work from out artist Adil Mansoor

Published

on

Adil Mansoor in ‘Amm(i)gone’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. (Photo by Kitoko Chargois)

‘Amm(i)gone’
Thorough May 12
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D St., N.W. 
$60-$70
Woollymammoth.net

“Fully and utterly autobiographical.” That’s how Adil Mansoor describes “Amm(i)gone,” his one-man work currently playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. 

Both created and performed by out artist Mansoor, it’s his story about inviting his Pakistani mother to translate Sophocles’s Greek tragedy “Antigone” into Urdu. Throughout the journey, there’s an exploration of family, queerness, and faith,as well as references to teachings from the Quran, and audio conversations with his Muslim mother. 

Mansoor, 38, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and is now based in Pittsburgh where he’s a busy theater maker. He’s also the founding member of Pittsburgh’s Hatch Arts Collective and the former artistic director of Dreams of Hope, an LGBTQ youth arts organization.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What spurred you to create “Amm(i)gone”? 

ADIL MANSOOR: I was reading a translation of “Antigone” a few years back and found myself emotionally overwhelmed. A Theban princess buries her brother knowing it will cost her, her own life. It’s about a person for whom all aspirations are in the afterlife. And what does that do to the living when all of your hopes and dreams have to be reserved for the afterlife?

I found grant funding to pay my mom to do the translation. I wanted to engage in learning. I wanted to share theater but especially this ancient tragedy. My mother appreciated the characters were struggling between loving one another and their beliefs. 

BLADE: Are you more director than actor?

MANSOOR: I’m primarily a director with an MFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon. I wrote, directed, and performed in this show, and had been working on it for four years. I’ve done different versions including Zoom. Woolly’s is a new production with the same team who’ve been involved since the beginning. 

I love solo performance. I’ve produced and now teach solo performance and believe in its power. And I definitely lean toward “performance” and I haven’t “acted” since I was in college. I feel good on stage. I was a tour guide and do a lot of public speaking. I enjoy the attention. 

BLADE: Describe your mom. 

MANSOOR: My mom is a wonderfully devout Muslim, single mother, social worker who discovered my queerness on Google. And she prays for me. 

She and I are similar, the way we look at things, the way we laugh. But different too. And those are among the questions I ask in this show. Our relationship is both beautiful and complicated.

BLADE: So, you weren’t exactly hiding your sexuality? 

MANSOOR: In my mid-20s, I took time to talk with friends about our being queer with relation to our careers. My sexuality is essential to the work. As the artistic director at Dreams of Hope, part of the work was to model what it means to be public. If I’m in a room with queer and trans teenagers, part of what I’m doing is modeling queer adulthood. The way they see me in the world is part of what I’m putting out there. And I want that to be expansive and full. 

So much of my work involves fundraising and being a face in schools. Being out is about making safe space for queer young folks.

BLADE: Have you encountered much Islamophobia? 

MANSOOR: When 9/11 happened, I was a sophomore in high school, so yes. I faced a lot then and now. I’ve been egged on the street in the last four months. I see it in the classroom. It shows up in all sorts of ways. 

BLADE: What prompted you to lead your creative life in Pittsburgh? 

MANSOOR: I’ve been here for 14 years. I breathe with ease in Pittsburgh. The hills and the valleys and the rust of the city do something to me. It’s beautiful, it’ affordable, and there is support for local artists. There’s a lot of opportunity. 

Still, the plan was to move to New York in September of 2020 but that was cancelled. Then the pandemic showed me that I could live in Pittsburgh and still have a nationally viable career. 

BLADE: What are you trying to achieve with “Amm(i)gone”? 

MANSOOR: What I’m sharing in the show is so very specific but I hear people from other backgrounds say I totally see my mom in that. My partner is Catholic and we share so much in relation to this. 

 I hope the work is embracing the fullness of queerness and how means so many things. And I hope the show makes audiences want to call their parents or squeeze their partners.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular