“Lady Godiva was a freedom rider,
She didn’t care if the whole world looked,
Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her,
She was a sister who really cooked,
Isadora was the first bra-burner,
Ain’t ya glad she showed up? (Oh yeah!)
And when the country was fallin’ apart,
Betsy Ross got it all sewed up…”
And then there’s Bea Arthur!
It was just announced that in February 2017 the Bea Arthur Residence, an 18-bed center for homeless LGBTQ youth, will open in New York’s East Village. Upon Bea Arthur’s death in 2009, the Ali Forney Center was bequeathed $300,000 from her estate to fund this endeavor. The center will also provide counseling and case management, as well as accommodations. (Source)
Arthur, who was born in New York in 1922, had a storied career on Broadway in The Threepenny Opera with Lotte Lenya, the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof as Yente the Matchmaker, and won a Tony Award for his role as Vera Charles opposite Angela Lansbury in Jerry Herman’s Mame (the ill-fated movie version of which she starred with the late, great Lucille Ball.) She won Emmy Awards for her groundbreaking roles as TV’s First Feminist Maude and the crusty, yet lovable, Dorothy Zbornak in The Golden Girls opposite Betty White, and the late Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty.
I was lucky enough to see Bea Arthur in her one-woman show Just Between Friends (which won a Tony Award as well) at Governor’s State University in March of 2006. I was 15 years old and was in the complete throes of my Golden Girls obsession and begged my mother to buy us tickets. I sat there for an hour and a half in complete awe at a woman completely confident in herself, despite being peeved at the substandard miking that was available for her. She spun stories about starry-named celebrities such as Lotte Lenya (“Bea, don’t be silly, men love a big behind), Angela Lansbury (“She has the mouth of a sailor”), but one in particular story had a profound effect on me.
Tallulah Bankhead, who I also adore, was touring with “yet another version of the Ziegfeld Follies” and Bea was hired as her understudy. Bankhead, who was famous for her vulgar persona and matter-of-fact reasoning, was remembered in a particularly interesting observance by Arthur: “9:00 in the morning, she was drinking bourbon. We started reminiscing about what happened in the tryout town we had just left…and she told me that all the kids in the chorus thought she was having an affair with our choreographer, who was obviously gay. She told me, Tallulah had the whole thing in perspective, ‘let’s face it Beatrice, there’s a touch of the homosexual in all of us.’ She said, “It’s not the cock, and it’s not the twat…It’s the eyes, you know, and sometimes the smell of lilac.’ Which I thought was beautiful!”
That wry, off-handed story had a decidedly profound effect on me. Here are two women, funny, charming, and vulgar, telling me the exact thing that I had hoped to hear my entire life. It doesn’t matter what you’re born with, it’s the fact that, inside, we’re all made of the same parts.
We spend so much time alienating ourselves from people who are different from us, rather than bringing them closer. Individuals entire lives are built around spreading hate and forcing separation, including the fact that some men won’t hug other men because it might be seen as “supporting the gays.” Suburban mothers shield their children’s eyes and ears from the gay sorcerers who were born for no other reason than to corrupt their children.
I was brought up in this same mindset. I went to a Lutheran school that was, obviously, conservative and any self-discovery was pushed aside, in favor of following the doctrine they set out neatly for us. We couldn’t read Harry Potter because the series “supported Witchcraft.” We couldn’t wear T-shirts because it might tempt us to become gang members. And there was no mention of homosexuals, except for the fact that they were “going to hell.”
When I went to high school, and therefore was able to discover who I truly was, I stumbled across The Golden Girls. From there, I discovered Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, and Paul Lynde. As you can deduce, I never looked back from that point on. Humor was humor, drama was drama, and humanity was humanity. There was no longer any reason to hate, only to accept.
When news broke about this home that Bea’s estate was funding, I beamed with pride. The same woman who introduced me to the idea that every person on this earth has a bit of the homosexual inside them now inspired me even further, seven years after her death. She has now provided a place for homeless LGBTQ youth to live, thrive, and get on their feet. Most of them are there because of bigoted, hateful parents throwing them on the street when they found out about their “rebellious life choices.” She has provided them an opportunity to save their lives and inspire them to achieve and extend their help to the next generation.
Bea Arthur, who had a history of playing powerful (and inspiring) women, will now be seen in a different light. She has become a humanitarian and a saint among a community who needs heroes to cling onto. She has taken one more step to removing the stigma of being gay from this society.
The moment we stop segregating and alienating any human being is the moment where our mass of disparate personalities becomes a true society. Arthur’s Home will save the lives of those it helps and give them a ray of hope in a dark tunnel that can seem unending. It has given hope to those who are running love and life to those who have had theirs taken away from them.
I want us to take up the words of St. Bankhead and St. Arthur as a battle-cry: “There’s a touch of the homosexual in all of us!”
And, to those who won’t:
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