When Glee creator Ryan Murphy stepped onstage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills to accept the Family Equality Council award last Saturday, February 28, for being the force behind that groundbreaking show, he got a bit misty-eyed. Nowadays LGBTQ characters are found in many television shows, including his other huge hit American Horror Story, but as he reflected on the upcoming final episode of Glee, Murphy remembered a very different time in Hollywood. Here is his speech:
So a couple of weeks ago, the co-creators of Glee, Brad [Falchuk] and Ian [Brennan] and I, got alone in a room with our other writers on Glee to write the final episode. We struggled for days with the title, and finally we just settled on the truth, and the series finale is called “There’s No One Left to Come Out.” It’s a true story.
If I look back to seven years ago, Glee was going to be about a lot of things — song, dance, Jane Lynch’s character being waterboarded — but for me, I wanted to do something personal on the show. I grew up in Indiana behind a cornfield and a church, and for me the only single person I knew who was gay was Paul Lynde. So with Glee I wanted to write about something personal, something about gay characters, something about creating your own kind of family no matter who you are or where you live.
I have always believed in the ideology of one of my friends and idols, Norman Lear, that the way to acceptance is understanding. You have to see it, experience it in your own house and your life, to empathize. I think the success of Glee and Modern Family brought gay kids and gay families to millions of people who think they didn’t know those kinds of people, and then suddenly, within the course of one month, they did. To me, that is the great legacy of these shows and is why public opinion, I think, has changed so radically and so quickly.
I have been told that seven years ago, before Glee and Modern Family and Transparent and Orange Is the New Black, that only 18 percent of Americans believed that a gay or nontraditional family was entitled to equal rights. Today, that number has grown to 52 percent. That is a great change, that is a great victory, shockingly in such a short amount of time, but there is more work to be done.
I started writing television in 1998, and I still have the network executive notes from my first show in my office. They were repeated misses that used to say the following, quote: “Could you please not have the cheerleader wear a fur coat?” Code for “too gay.” And “Could you please remove the gay characters holding hands?” Code for the same. I am happy to say that I no longer receive notes like this, and I am happy to say that all the executives who gave me those notes are no longer employed.
Show creators like Steve [Levitan] and myself get a lot of credit for moving the bar when it comes to the depiction of gay characters and gay families, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of the credit really needs to go to a new breed of executive and leader in our town, people like Dana Walden and Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane and Michael Lombardo. These are the people who are always on the right side of history.
These captains of industry fought the good fight 100 percent of the time, even when they were starting out, and with their power and ability to make and approve content, said one simple thing to change history and create a new national conversation, which was, “Do it, write it, don’t change it, be bold, that’s the only way things are going to change. And once in a while, tone down the fur.” And so, without further ado, until we reboot the show on Netflix in three years, here is the cast of Glee [to perform one last time].