One of the most beloved actresses of our time, Betty White, died on Friday, December 31, 2021. White was known not only as an LGBTQ+ icon but an ally to the Black community and an animal rights advocate. White was just short of celebrating her 100th birthday on January 17, and on Tuesday, December 28, tweeted:
“My 100th birthday… I cannot believe it is coming up, and People Magazine is celebrating with me! The new issue of @people is available on newsstands nationwide tomorrow.
Betty White Connection to the LGBTQ+ Community
Betty White was one of the most charming and talented people and had a history of being embraced by the LGBTQ+ community. In 2010, Washington Blade writer Kathi Wolfe believed that this connection to LGBTQ+ individuals came from the struggles White had experienced herself.
According to Wolfe:
“She’s thrived through the Depression, World War II, divorce, the loss of her husband Allen Ludden (who she call[ed] the “love of her life”) and aging. We’ve carried on (and often prospered) in the midst of bigotry, rejection from our families, ostracism by our straight peers and AIDS. We identify with and respect survivors. Especially when they’re talented and funny.”
White stood up for the LGBTQ+ community by expressing she was in favor of marriage equality at a time when most people were not doing so.
In 2010, in an interview with Parade magazine, White said:
“I don’t care who anybody sleeps with,” she said. “If a couple has been together all that time – and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones – I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”
In 2019, she was in a video for GLAAD to speak out against the bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. She even joked about changing her name to Betty Purple as a tribute to GLAAD Spirit Day’s color.
The Golden Girls and Its Importance in the LGBTQ+ Community
White was a part of the legendary cast of the TV sitcom The Golden Girls itself was known for being progressive, especially at the time. It covered topics like HIV awareness, racism, the trauma of coming out to your loved ones, and so much more. This show also portrayed the idea of chosen family, which is of particular significance to the LGBTQ+ community. All in all, the show and the queer community are linked. RuPaul is famously known for being a massive fan of “The Golden Girls” and has often rewatched the classic TV series.
According to Rich Ferraro, the Chief Communications Officer for GLAAD and Executive Producer of the GLAAD Media Awards: “The Golden Girls boldly and unapologetically had its lead characters embrace and accept LGBTQ people. That was a game-changer at a time when LGBTQ characters were treated as villains, victims, or stereotypical caricatures or were completely invisible.”
Betty White as An Ally to the Black Community
White was a long-time advocate for human rights in general. A prime example of when she stood up for the Black community was in 1954 when she was hosting producing her variety show, The Betty White Show, for NBC. She had creative control over her program, and hired a female director, and made Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer, a regular on the show.
However, Duncan’s presence on the show had TV networks in Southern Jim Crow states attempting to boycott the show. White was then pressured by the network to fire Duncan.
Even under intense pressure, she said no and kept Duncan on the show. In the PBS biography about White, she famously said, “I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays. Live with it.”
White instead gave Duncan more airtime, and his role on The Betty White Show led to a successful career for him.
However, White’s refusal to fire Duncan led to the cancellation of the show, and Duncan was unaware of what happened a few years after. Putting her career at risk and standing up for the Black community is exemplary of what makes a good white ally.
White’s Animal Rights Activism
White was also known as an animal rights activist and worked to save endangered species and improve the conditions at the Los Angeles Zoo.
She worked tirelessly for decades to support animals in her charity work and even published a book about it. In addition, she starred in the 1971 show “Pet Set.”
Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association president Tom Jacobson had this to say about White: “Her work with [the zoo] spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for her enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission.”
White was known for having her pets, including a Pekingese, a St. Bernard, and a miniature poodle. She was a lover of all animals and made her mark as an advocate for the wellbeing and treatment of animals.
Betty White Will Be Missed
Betty White was loved and will be missed by many. Her legacy will always live on, and many communities will forever embrace her.