It’s easy enough to worship at the altar of Oprah. Who else has the power to turn Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” into a best seller with her book club, rebuild over 1,000 houses post-Katrina and draw the extra millions of votes to help elect the first African-American president?
Yet even though the wealthiest and most influential woman in America asserts she is all about inclusion, watching Oprah’s “Best Life Week” was anything but inclusive for queers.
In recent years, Oprah has done a number of excellent shows on LGBT issues, which have been groundbreaking. But when it comes to including queers in her worldview, that just doesn’t seem to happen. Unless queers are an “issue,” we don’t really exist for Oprah.
It’s an interesting disconnect, because Oprah’s brother was gay and died of AIDS. Oprah herself has been dogged by rumors that she and best friend Gayle King are lovers and that her partner of nearly 20 years, Steadman Graham, is gay. Why doesn’t Oprah get that being queer is part of the panoply of society and sexuality?
Queers were largely absent from her “Best Life Week” series. We’re not disputing that straight married women are a major demographic of Oprah’s audience, but featuring these people to the exclusion of anyone else is, well, exclusionary.
On the “Spirituality 101” episode, two of the spiritual advisors on Oprah’s panel referred to being gay as a gift from God, which made Oprah veritably squeal that she had never heard a minister say that before. (It was not a good squeal.)
The comments were in response to a black gay man from Alabama who said his gayness made him miserably unhappy. The Rev. Ed Bacon, an Episcopal minister, and Michael Beckwith, one of Oprah’s regular spiritual gurus, head of the Agape Spiritual Center, said he had to stop feeling that way because, as Bacon said, being gay was a gift from God.
After Oprah’s response (God and gay in the same sentence?), Beckwith said he agreed, “so you definitely heard it.” Beckwith added that since people are born gay, they don’t make the choice to be gay; it has to be a gift from God because God made them gay.
Oprah cut to commercial, but when the panel returned, she reiterated that she was still reeling from that comment. Since there was no further discussion, the implication was clear: Oprah thought the pastors were out of line to make such a pro-gay statement involving God.
This was the one queer moment during the entire “Best Life” week: A superlatively unhappy gay man, who was overspending to fill his void. (Gays and lesbians can’t be happy with their orientation.) Then two pastors who seemed to think being gay was perfectly fine. (Anathema.) Then the queen herself getting queasy and stopping the discussion.
Not exactly a pro-gay message, because the ministers were undercut by Oprah herself. Oprah reprised the comment on her Jan. 12 show, and brought Bacon back to expand on his comment.
Bacon said he meant what he said and that gay and lesbian people are wrongly marginalized and made “outcasts in so many areas of life” and that they need to recognize that they are God’s creations.
When we consider what it means to be fully included, it means having our lives represented fully. We aren’t just the topic du jour: We have real lives that are not just about being queer, but in which being queer is definitely key. There is no sense whatsoever that we are “normal” or “ordinary” — and yet the majority of us are.
Part of “Best Life” TV for queers needs to be a refusal to accept being invisible. When we aren’t included, we have to protest. We need to demand our 10 percent of the TV landscape.
According to Oprah’s “Best Life” scenario, this is something every queer in America should be doing to make our lives better. We could start by telling Oprah she needs to stop leaving us out of her inclusivity equation. (Write to her at Oprah.com.) She needs to listen more to the Rev. Bacon and to us.