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Tony and Emmy Award winner Judith Light is critically acclaimed for her film, television, and stage work, as well as a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star recipient. Television: The Politician,[…]

“Any time a person comes out, it displays someone’s courage and bravery,” says the actress. Standing up and saying that you are different is “remarkable and terrifying.”

Question: What was it like helping former cast mate Danny rnPintauro come out? 

Judith Light: I think any time a rnperson comes out it displays someone’s courage and bravery. The rndifficulty to stand up in front of God and everybody and your community rnand your religion and your friends and your family and your everybody rnand say, “I’m sorry, this is my truth. I’m not like you,” with the fear rnof rejection on all fronts is remarkable and terrifying. And so, do I rnthink it helped? Yes, I think it helped tremendously. I think he was rninordinately brave. But, he was about to be outed and he called and he rnsaid, “This is going to happen.” And so, he knew Herb very well and so rnHerb really talked him through it and I said, “I think this is what willrn help you,” and he listened and he did it. I don’t know whether it was rnthe Enquirer or Star. I don’t remember, but they said they were going torn out him, which was rather generous of them to say, “We’re going to do rnthis story. Do you want to comment on it first?” And Herb and I both rnsaid to him, “You should do this. This will make it much easier on rnyou.” 

It gave him a kind of freedom that he didn’t have before, rnso yes, I think it’s very, very important that a person live their truthrn and be who they are. Do I think it’s incumbent upon anyone to out rnanyone or for anybody to... "must" they come out? I think that’s a rnpersonal choice. I would never push anyone to do that. I would encouragern someone to do that. I would support them in doing that. Sometimes... I rncan’t make it a rule. I think it’s a principle more than a rule to me. rnSometimes there are situations where there are people who are doing rnterrible things to this community and they are closeted and it’s rnimportant to talk about that and I don’t quite know how you do that in arn way that really makes a difference without getting your fingers into rntheir business. But, I have to say that sometimes when that happens I rnhave to say that I have been delighted. 

Question: How rnhas television contributed to the LGBT equality movement? 

Judithrn Light: They have done the most extraordinary job in making the LGBTrn issues mainstream and what's so valuable about that, I think, is that rnin the very beginning of the movement, there were no role models for rnanyone. People didn’t know that they could connect to other gay people. rnThere was nobody out there for them. So, what David Cohen and Max rnMutchnick did when they created "Will and Grace" was they gave it a rnface, they gave it a name, they gave it a place in history, they gave itrn a way for that young, gay person in nowhere USA to say, “There’s rnsomebody out there like me and I don’t have to feel bad about myself. rnI’m on television.” And that changed the world. 

Question:rn Who was the first person to come out to you? 

Judith rnLight: I do not know who the first person was that came out to me. rnI've been surrounded by gay people all of my life. I went to a rnperforming arts camp in New Hope, Pennsylvania and anybody who’s in the rngay community knows New Hope, Pennsylvania and Bucks County, it was a rnperforming arts camp and everybody came there for summer from New York. rnSo, I just knew that everybody was gay. I had one good friend who was inrn repertory theater with me and I remember him agonizing about coming outrn to me. I had somebody else in college come out to me. Also, a very rnagonizing, painful expression of who they were and fear and terror that Irn would reject them. And, in both cases, I already knew that they were rngay. 

Question: How did that affect your understanding rnof LGBT issues? 

Judith Light: It wasn’t just my rnunderstanding of LGBT issues, it was my understanding of human issues. rnIt was like I had been that little girl who was the star of the high rnschool play and the junior high school play. I had been the outsider. I rnwas the "other." I was the different one and I understood it. Because I rnwas around gay people and they were my friends. I mean, they were these rndancers at this performing arts camp in the summer that they looked out rnfor me. I was really, really young and they protected me. They were my rnfamily. It was as though I grew up in that, not anywhere else. So, all Irn knew what that they were my family and they protected me and they rnchanged my life and they were my friends and I wanted to be connected rnwith them forever. 

And, when things were not going well for rnthem, it was incumbent upon me to stand up and say, “You're doing rnsomething terrible to my family.” So, that’s kind of how it really rnworked for me. And, when you're in a drama department at Carnegie Mellonrn University, I mean, at least three quarters of the people are gay. So, rnit wasn’t unusual for me. 

Question: What inspired you rnto become so involved in the LGBT equality movement? 

Judithrn Light: I was reading about this "gay cancer" in the 80s and I had rnheard about some people that I had worked with. One gentleman who had rndied and I said, “God, Bobby was young. That’s weird.” And then I rnstarted hearing about these other friends who were sick and they had rnthis weird disease that nobody seemed to be able to diagnose and then I rnstarted putting it all together as it was coming out in the news what rnwas happening. And so, I was offered the role to play Jeanne White in rnthe movie of the week, “The Ryan White Story,” which told the story rnabout this young boy, for those who don’t know, who are too young to rnknow the story, who was a hemophiliac who, in order to save his life, rnhad to have a blood plasma infusion a couple times week and it was rncalled Factor VIII. And it kept his blood clotting, otherwise, if he rnbanged himself or hurt himself, the possibility was that he could bleed rnto death. 

And so, his mother, Jeanne, was his staunch rnsupporter... and at that time, the blood supply was tainted with the rnAIDS virus and so was his Factor VIII. So, Ryan acquired AIDS. And it rnwas the story of his being told that he was no longer allowed to go to rnschool because he had AIDS and his mother Jeanne and he decided to fightrn it and he was, in fact—the courts overturned the first ruling and he rnwas allowed to go to school. Very powerful story. 

I desperately rnwanted to do that movie. I got to do that movie and I got to know Ryan rnand Jeanne very well. Well, one day on the set there was a woman who wasrn interviewing him from the local paper in North Carolina and she said torn him, “So, why don’t you tell me what your experience was in Indiana, inrn Cicero, Indiana... in Kokomo, Indiana?” They moved to Cicero afterward rnso he could go to school. And he said, “Well, it was really tough,” and rnhe said, “Sometimes I would be places and people would spit at me and rncall me a fag.” And do you know how you have those moments in your life rnwhere everything just sort of... all the pieces of the puzzle just fall rninto place? 

I was so unnerved and upset and I get upset to this rnday thinking about it...  appalled and shocked and disappointed and it rnwas like somebody drove a stake through my heart and I thought, “These rnare my friends who are dying and this young boy is in the process of rndying and this is historic and we are making this story about his life rnand what transpired and his bravery and his courage,” and I started rnthinking about my friends who had to come out at the same time as they rnwere dying and their families disowning them and discounting them and rnnot coming to see them and rejecting them and they’re lying in hospital rnbeds dying and I thought, “These are the people who cared for me, who I rnlove and I’m not doing anything. I’m making a movie.” Not enough. Not rnenough. 

So then, I began to see that people like Elizabeth rnTaylor were befriending Rock Hudson and I saw that organizations were rnspringing up to help this community that was becoming so powerful and rnalive with its courage and its bravery and I watched the lesbian rncommunity say to the gay men, “Look, you guys need help. Just get out ofrn the way. Let us help you.” And that community bonded with each other rnand the transgender community and the dancing queens and the rnmagnificence of the events that everybody was doing and I said, “This isrn a community that is magnificent and they're being... viciously... and,”rn I don’t even know the word that I want... discounted as human beings inrn a way that I found appalling. That this country that says it is a rncountry of compassion and love and Christian values could do this to my rnfamily and to my friends and I was disappointed in myself for not rnstanding up and for not saying, “You can’t do this. You can’t treat thisrn courageous, magnificent, amazing community the way that you are. You rncan’t be a president and two presidents and not mention the word AIDS. rnYou can’t fly over the quilt display in Washington and leave town when rnthe community comes to display their dead. Can you really mean that you rnwill do that? What kind of human beings are you?” And so I saw it and I rnsaw that it was... there was massive homophobia in the country and I rnjust had to talk about it. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t talk rnabout it. 

So, it was for me. It wasn’t like I was going to standrn up and be this hero for the gay community, the LGBT community, here I rncome. It wasn’t like that. It was I can’t live with myself if I don’t rnstand up. And I was working with Herb and his partner Jonathan at the rntime, and my husband, Robert, and I said to all of them, I said, “I wantrn to do this. I want to do this. I want to find a way, if I can, to make arn difference or tell the truth or talk about it.” And they said... and rnHerb in particular said, “I can help you do that. That I can help you rndo.” And that’s how it happened.
Recorded on May 10, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen