In many respects, The Golden Girls was a forerunner in LGBT representations on primetime television. Throughout the series there were references to Dorothy’s brother (Sophia’s son) Phil, a heterosexual cross-dresser. The pilot featured a flamboyant cook named Coco. In one episode, Dorothy’s lesbian friend becomes attracted to Rose. Several episodes featured Blanche’s brother Clayton, who first comes out to her and later marries his partner. Making LGBT issues visible in the 1980s was audacious, if unsurprisingly, given executive producer Susan Harris’s penchant for edgy sitcom material.
Since the series concluded its run in 1992, it has been embraced as part of gay culture, not only for the episodes that address LGBT subject matter but also for the camp value of the fashion, cutting humor, and lifestyles depicted (especially Blanche’s open sexuality). Additionally, the way the women craft a family out of strangers and roommates may resonate with the LGBT community. Reruns of The Golden Girls can be seen on Logo, the LGBT-themed network, and at the restaurant chain Hamburger Mary’s, which features drag performances. In Kansas City, the troupe Late Night Theatre performed a drag parody called Golden! Girls Gone Wild! Most recently, HBO’s Looking, a series about gay men in San Francisco, concluded its first season with two men watching the series together in affirmation of their friendship.
In 2013, as the Supreme Court heard cases on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, fans revisited key scenes that addressed same-sex marriage. The Huffington Post, Jezebel, and the Daily Beast ran stories featuring the clip shown here and declared Sophia Petrillo twenty years ahead of the United States government. On Tumblr and Twitter, fans reblogged the clip in the name of marriage equality. Within the clip, Sophia notably does not say she supports legalizing same-sex marriage, but rather that she merely understands Clayton’s desire to wed his beloved. As an immigrant from Sicily, Sophia is the voice of the “old country” and is the most outspokenly religious of the four women. It is therefore significant that Sophia is the one who encourages Blanche to support Clayton’s marriage. Her sympathetic attitude is, for many fans, a testament to the series’ endurance: it got social issues right, often long before the rest of the nation.