An actress and her show that once celebrated queer lifestyle have derailed due to support of Donald Trump’s administration.
For many LGBTQIA people in their twenties and thirties, Roseanne was an integral piece of television viewership. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the sitcom was a top-5 show, witnessed as weekly as church to people all over the nation. The show—which was inspired by Roseanne Barr’s onstage persona in which she preached to be a “domestic goddess” rather than a housewife in stand-up routines—was the first of its kind to portray a middle-class American family struggling to pay their bills, find work, and deal with lifestyle and societal issues, such as racism, domestic violence, and natal complications. But what queer people, if not most people, may find more memorable about the show is the way Roseanne incorporated gay and lesbian characters into its construct. From the inclusion of Sandra Bernhard and Martin Mull as Roseanne Conner’s lesbian and gay friends Nancy and Leon, to the outing of Roseanne’s mother, Beverly, at Thanksgiving dinner, to being one of the first network television shows to air a same-sex kiss, the Conners were at no shortage of LGBTQIA-inclusion in their lives.
But all of these points only make Roseanne Barr’s political positions and their inclusion into the revival of Roseanne all the more perplexing. Last year, ABC officially announced that it would be rebooting Roseanne for an eight-episode season, which was later extended to nine episodes by the network. But before that, Roseanne Barr announced via her Twitter on numerous occasions—including some in which she sparred with fans, critics, former colleagues, and other notable celebrities—that she vehemently supported Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Such tweets even included nasty insults targeted not just at other candidates such as Hillary Clinton, but people who dared to challenge her.
But what appears to be most disturbing about Barr’s inane Twitter-rants is the fact that she seems to not only buy into what she’s saying about Donald Trump—which is often false, or at least unfounded—but that she seems to be oblivious to how his actions and those of his administration have negatively impacted, and continue to potentially negatively impact, the LGBTQIA community. After all, this is the man whose running mate once endorsed federal funding for conversion therapy and who has actively spoken out about how “societal collapse” has always followed the redefining of marriage to include same-sex couples. Pence has also supported laws that promoted discrimination against the LGBTQIA community, such as a bill in Indiana during his time as governor that would have allowed privately-owned businesses to refuse service in the name of religion v. sexual orientation/gender identity. Trump’s other stances on LGBTQIA politics have also included, but are not limited to, his self-proclaimed “ban” on transgender people serving in the military, endorsements of anti-gay politicians, blatant ignorance of National Pride Month, rescinding an Obama-era motion protecting trans children in public schools (primary and secondary), permitting trans discrimination to be tolerated, and so much more.
So, this begs the question: what does Roseanne see in this guy? What happened to the progressive, feminist, advocate for the community and mother of four we grew up with for nine years? If you thought that Barr seemed liberal in her heyday, think again. At least, think again before bringing that her attention. She has in recent days denounced ever being a liberal (arguing she is instead now, and always has been, a “radical” who, in her own words, wishes to “shake up the establishment [and] staid the status quo.” If that were true, and we were to take Barr at her word, it would still be difficult to comprehend given her unwavering support of this particular administration.
This Roseanne Barr is a stark contrast to the Roseanne Conner many of us—specifically queer millennials—grew up knowing. Sure, one could argue that Barr’s onscreen persona was just that—a caricature of a real person that didn’t entirely parallel her real-world values, ideals, and morals. However, there’s a great deal of flaw to that logic, especially considering the reported toxicity on the set of the ABC hit during its freshman and sophomore years.
Not long after the show’s premiere, reports of Roseanne’s disputes with the show’s creative staff surfaced and were widely publicized. These included changing the show’s original title (Life & Stuff, denominated by series creator Matt Williams) to simply her Roseanne, her real-life and television forename. Barr also reportedly had an all-out screaming match with producers and a then 13-year-old Sara Gilbert, in which she insisted the child star be fired and replaced over an issue Gilbert was alleged to be having with learning her lines. It’s reported that Gilbert involved herself, shouting back to Barr, “You can’t fire me. You’re not a producer. You’re just the star.” There was also her boycott of the show after yet another creative disputer that landed her in her trailer for an entire day of shooting, which she had attached a memo to the simply read, “Sandy Duncan,” over her own name plate. The statement on the door referred to Valerie Harper having been fired from her own television show (entitled Valerie) and replaced by actress Sandy Duncan in the show’s second season when Harper insisted on having more creative control of the show. Other instances include (but are not limited to) the hiring of Tom Arnold (whom she would later wed and divorce), allegedly calling staff writers by numbers rather than by name, a complete firing of nearly her entire production staff to satisfy a vision for which Arnold took some credit (see video below), and an ultimate to show producers that if the aforementioned show creator, Williams, was not fired, she would leave the show just thirteen episodes into her 26-episode contract (Williams was subsequently let go following the ultimatum). And in many of these instances, Barr would have been right to stand up for the creative perspective she envisioned for a show that bore her given name in its title.
But all that this really proves is just how much creative control Roseanne eventually did have over the sitcom as a whole. And as the years progressed, that became increasingly apparent, often for the better (save for season nine). The tone became less soft; the issues became more real; Roseanne’s parents went from being simply annoying to downright vile; Jackie became quirkier; Becky threw away her potential for a high school dropout on a motorcycle; Roseanne became oddly spiritual; and, of course, the Conners won the lottery. Then, of course, there was the big one:
The inclusion of gay characters.
These characters, however, weren’t presented the way we’d seen gay characters on TV before—for the few that we had seen. They weren’t over-the-top gay men parading around flamboyantly and coming to the rescue with a one-off, sassy remark (though Leon did provide his fair share of zingers at Roseanne’s expense). And Nancy was never presented to be too butch or too lipstick—her character was a quirky individual who was more so defined by her eccentricities than by her lesbianism (and sometimes bisexuality).They stood in line amongst the other ranks of the cast. Leon was a successful businessman who eventually became Roseanne’s business partner; and Nancy was a free-spirited flake. Neither of their relationships were ever censored (at least not for a show that included gay core characters in the ‘90s). They weren’t put on display (though they were sometimes used as tools from which Dan and Roseanne could learn valuable lessons). Roseanne took these characters and showed them to audiences in a way that normalized homosexuality, arguably even paving the way for shows such as Will & Grace to feature leading gay characters in the later ‘90s.
Now, just two months shy of the revival, we know little about what to expect. But what we do know is both hopeful and unsettling. The hopeful: Roseanne and Dan Conner have a grandson who dons dresses (though producer Sara Gilbert has explicitly stated he does not identify as trans and that he’s too young to know that he’s gay). LGBTQIA people such as Wanda Sykes and Sara Gilbert herself are writing for and producing the show.
The unsettling: the Conner heads-of-household have elected Trump.
And that much may be true. But it does that mean that somewhere in the span of time that we’ve been absent from the lives of the Conners, Roseanne had to have this uncomfortable conversation with her lesbian mother, Leon, and Nancy. Does it mean that she’s turned her back on the women she once stood up for in the factory where its predominantly female employees were being tread upon by a misogynistic, piece of shit boss? Does it mean that the Roseanne Conner—and often the Roseanne Barr—that we all thought we knew, that we all wanted to be our mother and friend and sister, has had time to change in the last twenty years since leaving television?
Yes. The answer is yes. And that means that Roseanne Barr, and effectively Roseanne Conner, as well, is failing the LGBTQIA community. Someone who normalized our community is now in the pocket of a president whose empathy extends as long as his hands. True, Barr has stated that Trump has a bad habit of running his mouth and that she doesn’t agree with all he says and doesn’t, but she is using her show as a way to perpetuate the idiosyncrasies and the wrongdoings of a man in office who has done nothing to prove to the LGBTQIA community that he should be trusted with their lives and safety. Regardless of how Barr claims to feel about his stance on LGBTQIA rights (and it doesn’t seem that she’s had much to say so far about that particular end of it), befriending a villain because he did a good deed in your eyes is still befriending a villain.
Many of us will watch the show when it premieres—whether that be because we simply aren’t that shaken by her politics or because we’re just curious to see how the show actually handles these issues. Either way, one thing is for sure: Roseanne Barr—in spite of her many championships of LGBTQ culture throughout the years—has sided with the enemy, leaving many of us who looked up to her as a mother, a friend, a daughter, a comedian, a worker, or a woman in a great pit of disappointment.