E. Winter Tashlin

Looking Back: Barbara Walters & Harvey Fierstein

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | July 12, 2013 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: 20/20, Barbara Walters, Broadway, Harvey Fierstein, history of gay rights, interview, La Cage Aux Folles

There's been a lot of talk in the LGBT community about the scale and speed of our progress in terms of societal acceptance and civil rights over a comparably short time. Yesterday, Reddit user /u/yourdadsbff posted a video that was new to me, although I imagine some of our readers may recall it, which simultaneously illustrates how far we've come, and a bit about how we got here.
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The video is an interview Barbara Walters did with the great Harvey Fierstein around the Broadway debut of La Cage Aux Folles. It was also, according to Ms. Walters, the first time she'd ever interviewed an openly gay person.

Some of the questions, and a lot of the phrasing and word choices, are cringe-worthy by today's standards, but it's clearly a groundbreaking moment. Throughout the interview, Ms. Walters appears repeatedly taken aback by how normal Mr. Fierstein is, as well as by his rejection of the very premise that there are fundamental difference between heterosexual and homosexual people.

To put this piece in an historical context, it was broadcast sixteen years after CBS Reports aired the now-infamously anti-gay bias piece The Homosexuals, and seventeen years before the first legal civil unions began in Vermont.

For perhaps the first time, an actual gay person was coming into the homes of everyday Americans and literally saying "we're just like you." It's a vivid moment in the broader story of humanizing our community through an emphasis on what unites us with our non-gay neighbors, rather than what sets us apart.

Have a look at the video below, and let us know in the comments if you remember its original airing and/or what your take on it is now.


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