.
.
.
.
                                                                                The series made Gless a bona
                                                                                 fide star, and she met her
                                                                                 husband, producer Barney
                                                                                 Rosenzweig, on the set, too.  It
                                                                                 also opened doors to other
                                                                                 barrier-shattering roles, such as
                                                                                 that of the iconic PFLAG mom,
                                                                                 Debbie, on the hit series
```````````                                                                             Queer as Folk.  The role, which  
                                                                                 Gless said was “an honor” to
                                                                                 play, catapulted her into the
                                                                                 homes of an entirely new
                                                                                 generation of viewers, and left
                                                                                 its mark on more than a few
                                                                                 gay men.  

                                                                                 I heard from a lot of young gay
                                                                                 men because of Queer as Folk,”
                                                                                 she told Ambiente.  “Some
                                                                                 were hesitating in coming out,
                                                                                 because their best friend had
                                                                                 killed himself.  But I also have
                                                                                 letters from young men who
                                                                                 told me that their parents
                                                                                  watched the show to see
Debbie, and they wanted their mothers to be like Debbie.  I think the show saved a lot of
lives.”
If Cagney taught her about feminism, Gless says, “I learned about the gay community
from Queer as Folk.”  The actress is no new-comer to LGBT causes, however.  Gless is
a long-time ally of the community, and says she is  “very honored that I get picked to
bring [gay issues] to the forefront,” noting that, “in television, I have been very blessed to
play the parts that will hopefully open people’s eyes.”Recently, those parts include two
roles eerily similar to each other. Gless recently finished shooting an Ed Harris movie,
where she plays a wheelchair-bound lesbian.  And she spoke to us while taking a
break on the set of Hannah Free, an upcoming film about, yes, another wheelchair-
bound lesbian.

“It was never planned,” Gless said of the two roles, but added that, “I’m not complaining;
I love it.”

Hannah, based on the play of the same name by Claudia Allen, “is a story that will touch
people’s hearts,” Gless said.  “It is about two girls from a small town who fell in love.  
The film spans all their years together, and I have people playing meat 30 and at 10.”  
Gless's character is the modern-day Hannah, who is living in a nursing home when her
love, Rachel, suffers a stroke.  Rachel’s family forbids Hannah to say good-bye, and the
film chronicles Gless's attempt to see her beloved once more and bid her farewell.

The issue presented by the storyline – of same-sex partners being denied such basic
rights as the ability to see their loved one in a hospital room – “wasn't in the forefront of
people’s minds,” when the play was originally penned by Allen.  Now,
however, Gless says, “the timing is just perfect; I’m so thrilled that now this film is going
to come out with what’s going on.”
“What’s going on,” of course, are the anti-LGBT ballot measures of the 2008 elections,
which had just been approved by voters in Arizona, Florida  and California days before I
spoke with Gless. Noting that she lives in both Miami, Florida (where she films the USA
Network series Burn Notice) andin California, she said that passage of those two
measures hit especially close to home.  

“I’m just so sorry that, politically, this has happened,” she told Ambiente.  “I believe that it’
s going to be switched around.  I haven’t given up at all.”

And, she hasn't rested, either.

Noting the important role film and television can play in changing hearts and minds,
Gless said she is optimistic that Hannah can change attitudes about same-sex
relationships.  “It is a problem, families barring lovers and keeping them apart,” she
said.  “When you play that, you open up more, you get to emotionally experience it.  It
makes me even more determined” to make a difference, she said.

Making a difference has also included taking her
Queer as Folk role from the screen to the streets...
and beyond.  Gless recently signed PFLAG’s
Straight for Equality pledge on an R Family Cruise,
with Rosie O’Donnell.  The pledge, which centers
around taking steps both big and small to support
equality, was important to Gless.

“I had a very personal reason for signing it,” she
said.  “First of all, Rosie asked me if I would present
it to the audience.  I have a granddaughter who
is gay, who came out about three years ago, so
I said ‘I’m signing this in honor of my
granddaughter, who I adore.’  I did it because my
granddaughter is fabulous and because Rosie
www.ambiente.us  JANUARY | ENERO 2009

The Trials of Sharon Gless | Education, Entertainment and
Empowerment
by Steve Ralls

No one can play strong women quite like Sharon Gless.  From television’s original
strong woman on Cagney & Lacey to a tough-as-nails attorney on The Trials of Rosie O’
Neill - and even a defiant PFLAG mom on the Showtime series Queer as Folk - Gless
has left more than a few million cracks in the glass ceiling hovering just above the
entertainment world.  And after interviewing the Emmy-winning actress from the set of
her latest film, it was apparent that her on-screen persona is not just a role.  Gless is,
herself, a strong (and strongly opinionated) woman making waves in projects that
change the way Americans see things outside their living room windows.

Gless first arrived, in a very big way, in America’s homes through Cagney & Lacey, the
iconic television police series she co-starred in with Tyne Daley.  The two leading roles
– tough, no-nonsense female detectives – immediately changed the landscape of what
was possible for women on
television . . . and endeared both Gless and Daley to an entire generation of women,
and lesbian women in particular.

“I realized from Cagney & Lacey [that] women and minorities had never been taken
seriously,” Gless told me.  “They were always comedic:  Lucy and Ethel; Laverne and
Shirley.  It wasn't until Cagney & Lacey that there was a drama dedicated to women.  I
learned feminism from [the show].”
said ‘would you read this,’ and I said ‘absolutely.’”
“I signed it because it sets an example,” Gless told me. “It is a list of guidelines for
straight people to follow when it comes to gay people, and I was doing it for my
granddaughter.”And what does her granddaughter think of Gless's activism?

“She’s very proud of me, of course,” Gless says.  “All of a sudden, I’m hot stuff, right?”  
But, she adds, her granddaughter’s coming out “didn't change me, because I was out
fighting for gay causes long before I knew she was a lesbian.  But I’m very proud of her,
too.”“The gay community has always been there for me,” she told Ambiente, “and it has
been wonderful to get these parts that allow me to tell the gay experience.  Not only the
fun parts, but the sadness and the struggle that goes with it.”

And as Gless has shown throughout her career,
there’s nothing better to overcome struggle than
a strong, and strongly willed, woman fighting on your
side.

Hannah Free is currently in production.  Gless noted
the film is ‘very low budget,’ and that the production
team is currently raising money to distribute the
project, which she hopes will begin playing film
festivals soon.  



Copyright © Steve Ralls & AMBIENTE MAGAZINE.   Do not reproduce without citing this source.
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