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- American actress and comedian (1922–2021)
Betty White, who tragically died at home on Friday morning (31 December), once tackled AIDS stigma in a historic episode of The Golden Girls.
Throughout her life and career, White and The Golden Girls were known for tackling social issues in a way that sitcoms had never done before.
In 1990, in an episode titled “72 Hours”, the show became one of the first sitcoms to even mention the AIDS crisis.
The episode sees White’s beloved character Rose Nylund is told that during a procedure to have her gallbladder removed, she may have been exposed to HIV via a blood transfusion.
She is tested for HIV, and must wait an agonising 72 hours for the test results.
The episode aired during a time when AIDS stigma and misinformation was rife – in the same year, a study of US doctors found that less that a quarter believed they should be legally required to treat patients with HIV. Many people still believed that HIV and AIDS were “gay diseases” that only affected queer men.
But White and The Golden Girls used the sitcom to tackle this misinformation, showing viewers that anyone could be affected by AIDS, not just the LGBT+ community.
In the book Golden Girls Forever by Jim Colucci, White discussed the significance of the historic episode, saying: “Not only were people understandably afraid of AIDS, but a lot of people wouldn’t even admit it existed.
“So this was a daring episode to do, and the writers went straight for it.
“It’s interesting that they picked Rose for that situation. Blanche was such a busy lady, but if it had been her story it would have taken on a whole other color. But with Rose being Miss Not-Always-With-It, it came as a real surprise.”
Betty White was a gay icon and staunch supporter of LGBT+ rights
Betty White, who passed away just weeks before her 100th birthday, was celebrated as a gay icon and supporter of LGBT+ rights.
In 2010, five years before same-sex marriage was legalised across the US, White came out in support of marriage equality.
She told Parade magazine: “I don’t care who anybody sleeps with. 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.”
She joked: “Gays love old ladies.”