February 9, 1971: Forty years ago today, All in the Family became the first sitcom to feature an openly gay character. In Judging Books by Covers, the fifth episode of the legendary television show’s first season, Archie Bunker, the bigoted but lovable main character, is talking with his friend Steve about another friend that his son-in-law, Mike, thinks might be gay:
ARCHIE: Hey, let me ask you something. How long you notice this kid Roger that was in with Mike?
STEVE: Oh, a couple of years, ever since he started coming to the shop.
ARCHIE: A couple of years. Now you’re a man of the world. Now you must know that this kid is kind of a la-di-da, right?
STEVE: Is that what Mike thinks of Roger?
ARCHIE: Forget about what Mike thinks. I can’t even tell you what he thinks. Here, put them glasses over here, I want to go with you once more. Go ahead. (Steve takes the beers, moves them to another table.) Come on, let me get even with you one more time. Go on, get it up there. (Steve and Archie grab hands in an arm-wrestling hold on the table.)
STEVE: What does Mike think, Arch?
ARCHIE: Aw, Mike, geez. Well for one thing, he thinks that friend of his, Roger, is straight. And for another thing–well Steve, you’re gonna wanna bust him wide open when I tell you this, I don’t know where he gets these brainstorms, but he thinks that you’re–geez, I can’t even say it to you, Steve.
STEVE: He’s right, Arch.
STEVE: He’s right. (Steve slams Archie’s arm down on the table.)
ARCHIE: Oh, you mean he’s right about his friend Roger there.
STEVE: About everything.
This may seem tame to us now, but back then it was a brave move, especially for a new show on a major network, CBS. Since then, gay characters have continued to appear on television shows, playing central roles on shows like Ellen, Will & Grace and Glee. We still have a ways to go before homosexuality is accepted as a normalcy on television, or that gay characters are represented in a proportion approximating the gay population. Still, it’s worth celebrating the first step on that journey, forty years ago today.